12 Trees Project

Review of ChosenFruit

By Ken Love

 

What follows is a random collection of thoughts concerningthe individual fruits chosen for the 12 Trees project.@ These thoughts include horticultural andpersonal observations, marketing annotations and a few thoughts on thepotential or lack there of in culinary circles. Ifve also included my thoughtson alternatives to the 12 fruit which I find have greater potential forenjoyment as well as profitability than the original 12 choices.

 

Although the project has ended, the Hawaii CommunityCollege, West Hawaii Culinary School has continued directing students to usethe 12 Trees Project fruit as part of their curriculum. Students who graduatedafter the first year of the project have continued to use the fruit once theystarted their professional careers. After exposure to the 12 chosen fruit, theyhave developed an increased interest in many other unusual fruit grown in theKona district.

 

At the beginning of the project, I didnft agree with many ofthe choices that the 54 Big Island Chefs made and more than 3 years later, tendto feel the same way. I have also altered my opinions on a few of the fruitbased both on horticultural and marketing experiences.

 

Cherimoya

Certainly a delicious fruit, Ifm quite sure it has value asa commercial crop with some aggressive marketing. The tree does not like lowerelevations where it will seldom fruit.

It does flower and even with hand pollination, the fruit issmall, hard and often suffers damage from borers – if it fruits at all.Older trees at the project site which had fruited at the

1800-foot elevation on my farm in Opihihale South Kona, havenever fruited since being moved to the project at 430-foot elevation. Over 3years after transplanting, they have grown fine with copious foliage growth andflowers. They have never set fruit even with hand pollination.

 

At the beginning of the project I would have said thatcherimoya is the best tasting of the annona family of fruit. Today I would votefor rollinia. I suspect once we have enough production and chefs get a taste ofthe fruit, it might move cherimoya to the back seat.

Atemoya although it has fairly consistent production with afew commercial farms in the state, never really delights people the waycherimoya or rollinia does. The advantage of atemoya is that it will producewell at most elevations.@ It is a crossbetween cherimoya (Annona cherimola) and sugar apple (Annona squamosa). Thesugar apple, which is also called sweetsop, is very popular in Florida and theCaribbean. It is seldom found in Hawaii. Although there are a few producingtrees, the number of fruit on a tree is far less than the same size or age of acherimoya tree. The sugar apple is often asked for at farmers markets, byvisitors and local Filipinos who are always on the quest for atis, one of thefavorite fruits of the Philippines. At sometime in the future, it would bebeneficial for someone to plant a wide range of the sugar apple cultivars inhopes of finding one that will be more accepting of Hawaiifsmicroclimates.@ As for me, Ifll stickwith rollinia,@ (Rollinia mucosa andRollinia deliciosa). There are a number of advantages over the other annonas.It does well at most elevations, Ifve seen it produced from 300 feet to 2400feet. With irrigation or enough rain, it produces more and consistent fruitthan cherimoya. The fruit tastes like a caramel and light lemon flavoredcherimoya. The only fault it seems to have is the fruit size is from very smallto very large. There seems to be little consistency in that area, which is thesame with most annonas. Still, the smaller fruit has the same texture and tasteas the very large fruit. Something I donft find with cherimoya, which can beoverly sweet and gritty in some sizes and smooth as custard in othersf. Thefruit although its been untested by chefs as well as most growers can be usedin any dishes that chefs currently use cherimoya or atemoya for.

Crème Brulee and ice cream or sorbet would have anextra complexity from the rollinia that could be highly desirable.

 

The profitability of all of these fruit can be considerableif a grower develops good relationships with chefs and stores. Wefve had noproblem to sell any number of annonas both wholesale and at retail farmersmarkets. In my experience of marketing fruit in Hawaii, Ifve only seen rolliniasold at a 2 grocery stores and at perhaps half dozen farmers markets. Ifvenever seen chefs experiment with it and quite frankly; I tend to eat or sellthe ones I grow rather than send samples to chefs. I do pot the seeds and planto increase my production as well as consumption. Savvy growers will plantrollinia instead of cherimoya and plan to market it aggressively.

 

 

Fig

One of my earliest childhood memories was enjoying a wheelof dried figs from Greece. I was amazed at the taste and texture of somethingthat to my 5-year-old mind was also to be played with.@ It wasnft until I was much older that Iunderstand the difference in fresh and dried figs and I still enjoy workingwith both.@ The USDA germplasamdepository in Davis Calif. has 139 types of figs in their collection, only ahandful of which are growing in Hawaii. This presents us with manyopportunities for growers, chefs and those who develop value added products.Some of the figs taste very different from others. Figs were by far the mostprofitable of the 12 Trees Project fruit, sometimes at 10 times the value ofKona coffee growing in the same amount of space. This is with much less labor.The fig tree at the project started as a foot long cutting from my Brown Turkeytree in South Kona. Within a year it produced its first fruit. Within 7 yearsit produced over 4000 fruit in 1 year, in part, due to aggressive pruning andshaping. Since figs produce only on new growth, its always advisable to pruneto keep the tree short and let it grow outward rather than upward. If you turnyour back on it for more than a month youfll wind up with 25 foot shoots thathead straight up. The trees lend themselves to espalier as well as beingweighted down or tied to stakes, which is the common method in Japan.

 

Figs lend themselves to a virtually unlimited number ofculinary delights and value added products. A quick study at any internationalfood show such as Food Ex in Tokyo each March will reveal hundreds of figproducts from Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Japan, Iran and Iraq. A small driedwhole fig from Iran is popular in Japan used in baked breads and otherconfections. A few products we produce with seconds and culls include figmacadamia nut spread and dried fig pieces in locally produced honey. These sellout quickly at farmers markets in Kona.

 

There is always the question of what would happen when thereare hundreds of acres producing the amount of figs that our test tree produced.The 4000 plus figs were sold to 4 restaurants with an average 3-month waitinglist. There were two times during the year where we had an excess of figs, someof which were sold to small restaurants. We requests from chefs to be able toadd figs to the menu and from restaurants on other islands, Ifm convinced thatwe have a way to go before the market would be saturated at which time the needto focus on value added products would become apparent.

 

Many growers in the area who have figs wondered how theycould better rid themselves of birds who often peck at the ripe figs. We foundthat silver or gold Mylar tape, Christmas garland or tinsel, pie plates,aluminum foil or any reflective material hung in the tree served as an effectdeterrent for up to 3 months. At that time the birds came back. When we addedor moved the reflective material the birds disappeared again. We found thisnecessary, on average, every 3 months. Old CD ROMs hung from string on thetrees were very effective.@ In thefuture I hope to conduct tests using ultrasound deterrents. If I had an extraacre now, I would screen the whole place in and plant figs.

 

Grumichama

This is one of the most delightful fruits Ifve run across.Itfs more labor intensive to harvest and package than some of the others but ithas great potential.@ With a taste thatreminds people of black cherry and Concord grape or jaboticaba, it is usuallyenjoyed fresh off the tree. One of the problems is in fighting the birds thatalso love the fruit. Fortunately older trees are very prolific and there isusually enough to go around.@ UsingMylar tap and metallic reflective materials is effective but not as much so aswith figs.

 

The fruit is largely untested by the majority of chefsaround the state. The few who we have been able to supply with samples areanxious to get more both to use as fresh fruit on buffet lines and in dessertconfections. The shelf life is rather short and post harvest care is essentialwith grumichama if it is going to be marketed as a fresh fruit. Single layerclamshell packs containing fruit with the stem on was the most desirable formof presentation at a grocery store in Kona and for delivery to chefs.

 

Picking the fruit with the stem on is somewhat cumbersomebut helps to increase the shelf life of the fruit. If Ifm picking the fruitwith the intention of processing it into a puree, I tend to keep the stems off.Frozen puree can last more than a year. Removing the 1 to 3 seeds needs to bedone by hand as none of the processors or juicers were effective as the softseed would be damaged and the puree would contain too much grit or seedmaterial. This could be strained but was more time consuming than removing theseeds by hand. We would sit down to watch a DVD for 2 hours and process enoughfruit to produce 10 cups of puree.

 

We produced jelly, syrup and various sauces with thegrumichama, all of which tested well and sold out at farmers markets. Ifmlooking forward to working with this fruit and experimenting with ice cream andfudge recipes.

 

Kumquat

This seems to be a largely misunderstood fruit with newchefs on the island. I believe this is due to the common confusion betweencalamonsie, or calamondin, fruit with the kumquat.

The calamonsie is a lime often grown by the states Filipinofarmers. It is round and about the same quarter sized diameter as the Meiwakumquat. Chefs are more familiar with the Nagami or elongated kumquat commonlygrown in California. Where as the skin and pulp of the calamonsie is very sour,the kumquats have a much sweeter skin and taste.@ There are over 100,000 kumquat recipes listed on Internet so thefruit is obviously well known in most areas. Many of these recipes areconsidered classics.@ I feel this fruitwas chosen by chefs because of these classic recipes as well as the culinaryversatility of the fruit. When I had extra fruit I would bring it to the localChinese restaurant where they would use it with a variety of dishes. We alsoprocessed the fruit and made marmalade, jelly, and bottled whole fruit in alight syrup to preserve it. In Japan it is commonly used to flavor thedistilled alcohol, shochu or processed into a brandy like liquor. In Taiwan, itis dried and candied.

 

Highly versatile, the kumquat has a bright future for chefsin Hawaii.

 

Loquat

One of my favorite fruits, the loquat history is asinteresting and complex as its flavor.

Having spent at least a month out of each year for morealmost 10 years studying this fruit in Japan, Ifm convinced that itfs potentialin the US as a fresh fruit or for culinary use and in value added products isvirtually unlimited. At the Biwa@(Japanese for loquat) Club in Southern Chiba Japan, about 4 hours fromTokyo, there are more than 2000 items for sale made with the fruit orreflecting the image of loquat. Many streets in Tokyo have loquat trees plantedas part of the landscaping, some of these from the late 1940fs.

 

Arguably one of the most popular fruits in the world, thereis a name for loquat in many languages except English although the fruit issometimes called Japanese medlar. The fruit is mentioned in Chinese andJapanese historical documents dating back 5000 years. Europeans first exposureto the fruit was in the late 1600s.@Spain is currently the top producing country. There is continuingresearch throughout the Mediterranean region as well as all over Asia.

 

It is thought that early Chinese immigrants first broughtthe fruit to Hawaii, perhaps even before Captain Cooks time. The fruit andtrees were described y early visitors to Maui.

Many of Hawaiifs residents who have limited knowledge of thefruit do not find it that exciting, often complaining thatfs very small, sourand has large seeds. This happens because most of he trees are seedlings, whichhave become invasive in parts of the state.

These trees can be thinned, top worked and grafted withnewer varieties developed in Japan.

To get fruit that that is really a taste treat and desiredby chefs, a fair amount of labor is required. Once youfve tried a gperfecthloquat, there is no turning back! Ideally the fruit should be orange colored,very sweet and approach tennis ball size weighing more than 3 ounces. In Japanfruit sold in the spring is sized with 12 of the largest fruit going for asmuch as $50.00! Hawaii can produce loquat at different times of the year than anyother location where itfs grown. We could produce the fruit for New Yearcelebrations, which in past years, the Japanese Loquat Cooperative hasexpressed an interest in.

 

In Hawaii the fruit must be grown inside bags to protect itfrom fruit flies, birds and from sunburn. This, only after both the flowers andfruit has been thinned which helps in producing larger sized fruit. Higherelevations are better for the larger sized fruit but it will produce in lowerareas.@ If we had enough production ofloquat in November and December, I feel that opening the Japanese market wouldnot be a problem. Getting the support of the Japanese would not be as much of aproblem given we follow their growing guidelines and stick to the varieties ofloquat they like. Getting the USDA agencies to approve it could be a setback.

 

The thousands of loquat products in Japan, Taiwan, China,Spain, Algeria, Israel and other producing countries have never been mimickedhere. Value added products are another option for growers in Hawaii.

 

Mysore Raspberry

Without a doubt, the most controversial fruit on the list.The Mysore was the #1 choice of the 54 chefs although it could have been anylocally grown raspberry. It is also on the state noxious weed list for allislands except the Big Island, meaning that it is illegal to plant outside ofthe Big Island. Here, it is on a number of invasive lists. I would notrecommend growing it but not for the reason of potential invasiveness. I feelthe plant is highly misunderstood and should be separated from other rubusplants. It does not send up shoots from the roots like thimbleberry or otherraspberries. Birds seldom spread it, and the seeds are hard to germinate. Inmore than 15 years in South Kona, I could only get a second plant by rootingthe tips of the long canes.@ The problemcomes from the fishhook type thorns, which can make it extremely painful toharvest. Itfs a lot of work for little or no profit. The fruit tastes verygood, chefs like it, and it is nice to have a fresh raspberry growing in atropical location, but this plant is a pain to harvest.@ I would hope that in the future a thornlessstrain could be developed.

 

 

Poha

This is a delightful fruit that is also a lot of work. Imight not have chosen it if it were not for its history as part of HawaiianRegional Cuisine. The poha is always in demand by chefs and has not achievedits rightful place among the states more popular fruit. This due to the natureof the plant and the time it takes to harvest and husk enough quantity to makea difference. I do think that a dedicated poha farmer could find other growingsystems that would facilitate ease of harvest and cut into the laborintensiveness of preparing fruit for sale.@What surprised me during the course of the project were the time trialsfor harvesting and husking the fruit. Even at $7.00 a pound, poha was notprofitable. It routinely sells for $2.50 to $3.50 in local markets. I buy itall and can easily resell it at $7.00.@Best on the cost of production with $12.00 per hour labor and benefits,the cost to produce the $7.00 of poha was more than $9.00. Itfs very timeconsuming. We tried a number of different growing systems: trellises, raisedbeds, fences and a volunteer plant. There was no discernable difference in theamount of time to harvest and husk fruit from any of these systems although theexperience does give me a number of ideas to try in the future to save harvesttime.

 

Chefs enjoy working with the fruit and creating a number ofdifferent dishes. The fruit could be considered an identifier in much HawaiianRegional Cuisine. While larger jelly makers on Oahu and Kauai will call whenlooking for 3000 to 5000 pounds, I have a tough time getting 50 pounds for abig Island restaurant.@ Althoughconsidered invasive, there is just not enough of the fruit to go around. Thenagain, if the price paid was in keeping with the time involved, maybe therewould be.

 

 

Pomegranate

When the project started, I would often say that I wouldhave never chosen pomegranate for this project! Donft get me wrong, I love thembut there are so many coming in from Calif. and so many products from a numberof producing regions that we have kind of a glut of pomegranate thanks to allthe publicity and network marketed items that are now in the marketplace.@ Still, the chefs wanted locally grown fruit.Since it was a known fruit for many chefs, and they had experience working withit, they wanted fresh. What I learned since the start of the project was thatthe USDA Germplasam Repository in Davis, Ca., has 189 types of pomegranate intheir collection. This opens many possibilities for growers here who wish towork with the plant. The fruit sells well at farmers markets with most peoplesaying they just eat it fresh.@ A fewpeople mentioned that they make juice from it. One of the advantages in growingit here is that the plant does well in dry lower elevations. The famousbotanist David Fairchild first sent pants to the US in the late 1800s from thedesert around Baghdad.

 

If I was going to plant pomegranate now, I would look intomany of the more unusual varieties available through the USDA GermplasamRepository and plant known varieties rather than air layers made from seedlingshere.

 

Rangpur gKonah Lime

My first exposure to what I now call the Kona Lime happenedmany years ago, while standing in front of the then Kona Farmers Coop office.The inviting looking orange fruit seemed like a tangerine, peeled like one andeven had the little white strings often found.

I tease people who try it now that it is what made my hairfall out. Originally brought here as a rootstock for sweet citrus, the graftsdied off and people often forgot about the trees with the gsour orangeh. Somechefs found the fruit in the 1980s and started using it for confections and inlime pies. A slice of lime is often found in ice tea or drinks at Konafs olderrestaurants.@ Student chefs at theculinary school involved with the project found it useful as a base in sauce,for juices and in desserts. Many of our newer farmers have not realized thatthey have this lime and just think of it as a sour orange. Once they find outthat it is a lime, it seems to open a world of possibilities both for recipesand marketing of the fresh fruit.

 

The only drawback with the fruit are the numerous long andvery sharp thorns on the treesf. Some trees have little or no thorns and theyshould be the ones that are propagated. Seedling trees often produce fruitwithin a few years but the thorns sometimes make harvesting difficult and,because of the thorns, often painful. The marmalade we make from this fruit issome of the best Ifve had anywhere.

 

Surinam Cherry

The acquired taste of this fruit makes it a hard sell atmany of the farmers markets but those who love it, swear by it. A test underwayat the Kainaliu experiment station will help to determine a number of selectblack varieties of the usually red fruit. The black Surinam cherries aresweeter and less resinous than the common red varieties. This is one of thosefruits that although on the invasive list, I cant get enough of. As with poha,the large jelly manufactures are looking for 3000 to 5000 pounds at a time.Without a processing facility, itfs impossible to gather enough fruit tofulfill their needs. Chefs and student chefs have been very creative with thefruit. The red curry base made with its juice is very good. Fruit flies andbirds are a major deterrent to harvesting fruit in the wild. A number ofresearchers feel this fruit has great potential as a cash crop for Hawaii. Itend to agree but it can be labor intensive and, as the fruit is fragile, itrequires special care in post harvest handling.

 

Tree Tomato / Tamarillo

Another fruit with great potential, the tree tomato israpidly becoming a favorite of many chefs. Their fondness for tamarillo comesfrom the fruits adaptability to be used both as savory and meat sauces as wellas sweetened for a dessert sauce. When I first started producing the fruit Isimply peeled it and cut it into salads, finding the taste much better thancommon tomatoes.@ Now I make sauces andreductions for use with scallops, vegetables or in other dishes. Simple jamsand ketchup made from the fruit are delicious. There is some confusion with theuse of both names. New Zealand named the fruit tamarillo, which has caught onin many locations as they are large producers and fruit from that country isoften found at local stores as well as in mainland markets. The fruit has beengrown locally for many years and known as tree tomato. If we increaseproduction and local sales, it might be good to devise a Hawaiian name in orderto better promote and market the fruit and recipes developed at resort hotelsusing it. Although not near as profitable as figs, the fruit does have greatpotential, both economically and for the cheffs to be creative and develop acompetitive edge.

 

 

Tropical Apricot

As one of the first growers of this fruit, Ifve always had afondness for it in sauces and as a juice. Considered to sour or most, I foundit refreshing and extremely versatile for uses in sauces and jellies. I stillenjoy the fruit but after working with the father of this natural occurringhybrid, kitembilla, (also called Ceylon Gooseberry), I find that Ifve developeda fondness for this as well, perhaps even more so than tropical apricot. I feelthe Dovyalis fruit which include a number of cultivars have great potential.Generally sour tasting and with nasty thorns, the fruit tends to hybridize whendifferent seedlings are planted in proximity to each other.@ Trees of both fruit at the project siteproduce fruit with different characteristics than their parent trees. I feelwith a significant amount of selection work, sweeter, thornless types wouldevolve making it much more desirable as a fresh fruit. Not withstanding, thechefs very much desire the tropical apricot and we have no problem selling allthat we can produce. This seldom leaves us enough for jam making. Chefs at theresorts enjoy working with this highly versatile fruit for sauces and gels.They often request it for culinary events.@I also feel this fruit as well as kitembilla could be given localnames.@@

 

Recommendation:

What I feel is needed most in Kona is a processing facilityfor fruit which would include a community kitchen or a private company thatpurchases fruit and produces frozen purees and products made from 100% locallygrown fruit.@ Currently many of theresort hotels buy frozen guava, lilikoi and mango puree from the Montrealoffice of a French company!@ Hotel chefshere often request frozen puree, which, we cannot produce in quantity at localfacilities and with the limited labor available. We also receive a number ofrequests each month from mainland chefs. I would urge county and stategovernment in conjunction with the university to make this happen.

 

Summary

There are many other fruit that deserve equal attention tothose of the 12 Trees Project.@ Over thecourse of this project we have been able to discuss in more detail the hundredsof fruit and thousands of varieties with many growers and chefs. The differencein varieties is something that is just beginning to make inroads with the chefshere. With 200 types of avocados, 200 types of mangos and more than 50 types ofbananas, there are many avenues for chefs to take their creativity.@ There is not a sufficient quantity of manyof these fruit types to promote them across the board but growers who have theunusual varieties can market them as a limited high value crop. With some ofthe rare Hawaiian bananas, wefve found that being able to give chefs and grocerystores the fruit history in the form of a sign they can post for their guestsand customers. This greatly helps to increase the value. In short, once growersare educated as to what they have, they in turn can educate their customers whoin turn pass the information on to their customers. Wefve seen the value ofsome rare bananas increase 300% in the past 2 years.

 

Other fruit that I hope we can work with in the near futureinclude jaboticaba, rollinia, acerola and white sapote.@ Developing value added products frombilimbi, small starfruit and soursop would also benefit a number of areagrowers.@ Jackfruit and breadfruit areothers that deserve special attention from researchers.

 

Much needs to be done to dispel many myths regarding localfruit. Growers often perpetuate these myths but more so by the stores who oftenresist selling some types of fruit like pummelo and breadfruit. Many of thebuyers who have been in the produce business for 30 or more years still operateon 30-year old demographics. To them, every home already has a breadfruit treeor pummelo tree.@ It took some time toconvince one of the local markets to sell guglyh local lemons, (jambhiri) butonce they decided to take a chance they found that the lemons sell very well.Ifm sure this would be true of many other fruit given shelf space in thealready squeezed produce section.

 

With the ever increasing numbers of new farmers, thosemoving to the Kona district who have little or no experience in tropicalagriculture, an opportunity exists in the form of new interest in the moreunusual crops grown, this in terms of using and marketing. For examplestrawberry guava, which is considered highly invasive and can easily be foundin the wild, sells well when packaged and put into the market at $2.50 a pound.An informal query of some of the buyers revealed that they have the plant ontheir land but did not know what it was or that it was edible. This was truefor Surinam Cherry and a few other fruit I tested.

I also found that many of the new farmers had littleknowledge of the differences between other types of fruit that were commonlyconfused, like passion fruit and guava.@Some new farmers feared fruit that appeared to grow in unusualformations like jaboticaba and wi apple.@All of this experience tells me there is a need for continuing educationregarding tropical fruit. Horticulture, post-harvest, marketing and theassistance in developing value added products will contribute to the overallrural economic development and sustainability of small farms found across thestate. When agtourism is added to the equation, a grower soon finds thatpriorities tend to change in the direction of profitability. A number of newfarmers in South Kona now plant newly cleared land with agtourism in mindrather than production crops. This greater diversity will lead to greaterprofits and again, sustainability.

 

Ken Love

2-1-07