Kiawe? That thorny tree a super-food?

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A beautiful kiawe bean – bright, no marks, sweet, nutrient rich, diabetic friendly.

On Maui, we enjoy many blessings: the Hawaiian culture of aloha and chant, beautiful beaches, volcanoes, rain forests, temperate weather, splendid sunrises and sunsets, outrigger canoe paddling, . . . a vacation paradise. However, we import about 90% of our food and fuel. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean – 2,336 miles from San Francisco and about 4,034 miles from Tokyo – we are very food and energy insecure.

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Ocean as far as we can see.

This is a fact of concern.

However, most of us in Hawaii have been over-looking a terrific food source – a much-maligned tree that will give you a painful puncture wound if you step on its thorn. Its beans have been used as cattle and pig fodder or for firewood (mesquite). Tough and hearty – often looking like dead, brown trees during dry conditions, but quickly becoming green with new growth after a rain, kiawe trees are on all the leeward coasts of the Hawaiian islands.

A recent workshop shared that the kiawe beans – from that non-native, drought and salt resistant invasive tree – is actually a local super food. Wild-food guru Sunny Savage says, “Millions of pounds of kiawe beans are just falling to the ground every year, completely and utterly unloved. This tree of life can produce up to 6 harvests per year” (Wild Food Plants of Hawaii, 111).

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Naturally sweet, bubbling kiawe tea

We don’t need to be food insecure in Hawaii if we learn how to hunt (not hard in Kihei and other dry areas in Hawaii), gather, sort, clean, dry, make flour, and create from recipes using kiawe bean pods.

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Tasha making ‘aina bars

Sunny Savage and Vince Dodge presented our Kiawe 101 hands-on Workshop in Kihei, Maui.   Vince, of Wai’anae Gold, mills kiawe beans into flour and makes delicious products such as ‘aina bars, a raw power bar from kiawe flour.

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Kiawe trees grow on the dry leeward coasts of the Hawaiian islands

Vince and Sunny told us that kiawe (aka mesquite /algarrobo), was introduced in 1826, by a French Jesuit priest who had stopped in Peru for a while on his way to Hawaii. Father Alexis Bachelot was impressed by the uses the Peruvians made of the tree and brought it here. A memorial plaque at the old Catholic Mission on Fort Street in Honolulu commemorates that very first tree; its stump is still there today.

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Vince and Sunny at the Kiawe 101 Workshop

In Hawaii, the seedpods became animal fodder and firewood but was not eaten by the people. In contrast, in the Americas, the Middle East, India and many other places where the tree is native, the dried pulverized bean pods were a revered staple food. Naturally sweet, nutrient dense and diabetic friendly, kiawe bean pod flour is a Hawaiian Super Food. All our islands are blessed with abundant kiawe forests.

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Kiawe tea in a coconut

Wai’anae Gold is working with families to produce food and create livelihoods for the future. For ten years Wai’anae Gold under the leadership of Vince Dodge has been on this path educating and encouraging  communities to return to the bounty that the `aina has provided for us all.

To see recipes, buy milled kiawe flour and other kiawe products direct, go to the Wai’anae Gold site:< http://waianaegold.com/ >

Vince says, “We are `Ai Pohaku – The Stone Eaters. Come and join us. He ali`i ka `aina. He kauwa ke kanaka. The land is chief, people its servants (`Olelo No`eau 531 Pukui 1983).”

For the workshop, Vince and Sunny shared how to hunt, gather, select, dry, and use kiawe. We got to taste the super sweet (but diabetic friendly) tea, and eat a meal of kiawe and coconut soup, with kiawe cornbread, kiawe tortillas, and to top it off for dessert, kiawe ‘aina bars: delicious, filling and nutritious!!

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Hunting for fallen kiawe beans

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We all loved the kiawe tea

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Sunny making kiawe tortillas

Vince is “The founder of ‘Ai Pohaku, Vince Kana‘i Dodge, is a papa (grandfather), educator, cultural practitioner and longtime resident of Wai‘anae where kiawe trees are plentiful.

He shares the story that one day in early 2006 on MA‘O Organic Farms a couple from Arizona shared that “mesquite” – the cousin of kiawe – was a staple of all the Southwest native peoples.  All those years ago, Gary told Vince that kiawe was a sweet, nutritious and diabetic-friendly food.

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At that time the Wai‘anae community was in the throes of a diabetic epidemic (about one-third of the people in Wai’anae had diabetics, including some as young as 7th grade). Imagine: a sweet, nutritious diabetic-friendly food growing in our backyards… Vince was called. We believe it is no accident that the concentration of kiawe and diabetes are in the same place.”

Last week, Vince was able to meet Gary Paul Nabhan that important visitor from 2006, who was speaking here on Maui for the organic agricultural festival.  🙂

 

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Eugi’s kiawe bean dryer – with Vince and Erika

Sunny Savage is host of the wild food cooking show Hot on the Trail, presenter at the  2014 TedxMaui, a foraging workshop guide, and author of the beautiful and inspiring Wild Food Plants of Hawaii.  To be connected to the land, to absorb important trace minerals and nutrition we aren’t getting from our processed food, Sunny encourages all of us to forage for at least one wild food each day.

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Vince showing us how to sort the kiawe beans

 

Yesterday, my son Johnny and I ran into each other. We had an hour to spare. We each took a bag and in no time walking along the beach under the shade of kiawe trees, we had them filled with bright, plump kiawe pods. Right now they are drying (inside my car with the windows rolled up)! We look forward to making our kiawe flour into pancakes, bread, soup, sparkling drinks . . .

Again this weekend, we have warnings of two hurricanes headed this way. But now besides our cans of beans and bottles of water for emergency use, we have the knowledge of how to sustain ourselves on the humble kiawe bean pods that are all around us.

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Johnny making ‘aina bars – 2 parts kiawe flour, 2 parts nut butter, 1 part honey, and a pinch of Hawaiian salt. We are ready for a hurricane!

What overlooked food source do you have nearby?

Nature is bountiful; we just need eyes to see – and people like Sunny and Vince to teach us.

Happy foraging.

Aloha, Renée

 

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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

5 responses to “Kiawe? That thorny tree a super-food?”

  1. Rosita says :

    Cool post 😉 I’m sure natural food, specially veggies, is the one of the few secrets for a healthy way, apart from exercising moderately and finding a time to yourself, but also helping others in need. BTW, how is Hawai’ian culinary? 🍴😋

    • reneeriley says :

      Originally, Hawaiian food of fish, poi, and fruit of all kinds was very healthy and tasty. Now, many Hawaiians are diabetic from eating sugary and processed food: plate lunches that include two scoops of white rice, macaroni salad, meat and gravy. Spam is popular here too. 😦

      Rosita, you will be happy to know that we are back in Ubud, Bali with its many smart and beautiful Bali Dogs. Hope all is well with you.
      Aloha, Renée

      • Rosita says :

        Oh, I’m so happy 😁 Coincidentally, I was walking Bali – free from leash, of course!, kinda jogging with her -, around the condo & remembered the first time we chatted here 😉 I wish yuh came here to Brasil and knew Belém, my marvelous city, with its vibrant culture and unique culinary. If yuh like food, Belém is a MUST to include while traveling to Brasil. Please put on the blog when are yuh coming here, so I’ll be able to send yuh some tips on Brasil.

  2. reneeriley says :

    Hi Rosita: Brasil is certainly on my list of places I want to visit. I don’t know when that will happen, but I’ll let you know when we are coming. Aloha, Renée

  3. Ania says :

    Hello fromage France, still following you. Ania

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