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Sampling a Hawaiian delicacy (?) ... crack seed. Pungent and puckery, it's an acquired taste.

Sampling a Hawaiian delicacy(?) . . . crack seed It's sweet, it's sour, it's salty, and it looks like something your mother wouldn't let you put in your mouth. It's crack seed, and generations of Hawaii children have grown up sucking, smacking, and savoring this pungent confection. If you're in Hawaii, you owe yourself a sample.

A seedy odyssey from China to Hawaii

Crack seed's ancestor was a dried, salted plum Chinese travelers carried for sustenance. The original crack seed was a variation of this and was, truly, cracked seed--plums soaked in brine, sun-dried, washed, and smashed to release extra flavor from their pulverized red seed, then soaked again in a sauce of water, licorics, sweetener, and spices.

As for the snack's arrival in Hawaii, the facts are cloudy. But most authorities believe that the first cracked seed was probably imported commercially around 1900 by Yee Sheong, who sold it from his Yick Lung ("profitable enterprise") store in Honolulu. As business picked up, he began preserving local fruits such as mango in the same traditional fashion.

(Today, Yick Lung continues as one of Hawaii's two largest manufacturers and importers of crack seed.)

Original crack seed still sells, but its shrapnel-like consistency has cost it partisans who favor varieties with seeds intact (you don't eat the whole seeds). Visit a larger shop these days and you'll see dozens of varieties, from plum to lemon to cherry. All are dried, then soaked in sweet, sweet-sour, or salty sauce.

Powerfully flavored, often very sticky (a stack of paper napkins is a de rigueur accompaniment to any crack seed session), crack seed may be an acquired taste for most people. Still, on a hot and humid tropical afternoon, a nibble here and there can refresh.

Shopping in crack seed stores

Island supermarkets sell some crack seed in prepackaged 1/2-to 3-ounce bags, which retail for 75 cents to $3. But you'll have more fun shopping at specialty stores, where dozens of varieties are sold in bulk. The price for crack seed ranges from $8.50 to $23 a pound.

Here are eight stores with a large variety in areas often visited by tourists. For others, check Seeds in the yellow pages for each island. All are open from at least 10 to 4 (most longer) Mondays through Saturdays; many are also open Sundays. Call for exact hours.

In Honolulu

C-Mui Center, 77 S. Pauahi Street; (808) 536-4712. Hole-in-the-wall store just a few steps off Fort Street Mall is a favorite with locals. It sells seeds in bulk from nearly a hundred big glass jars.

Crack Seed Center, 1044 Ala Moana Center; 949-7200. This shop on the lowest level near the post office has more than a hundred jars of seed. There's usually a line here at lunch and after work.

Hong Linh Store, 1041 Kekaulike Street, Stall 1; 531-7782. Customers of Chinatown's only remaining crack seed shop stop to visit and snack in the wide, pedestrian-only alleyway in front of this shop.

On the Big Island

Doris' Place, Highway 180, Holualoa; 324-4761. Picturesque, small-town country store on the west side of the island about 4 miles southeast of Kailua Kona sells crack seed from about 65 jars, along with a variety of local produce.

Kiluaea Preserve Center, 187 Kilauea Avenue, Hilo; 935-8360. This is the oldest of a half-dozen different shops in the Hilo area. It sells 40 to 45 different types of crack seed.

On Maui

Rainbow Snacks & Seeds, Lahaina Shopping Center, Lahaina; 667-6696. Only a couple of dozen seed choices are sold here, but the shop is easy to find in the island's most popular tourist center.

On Kauai

Longies Crackseed Center, Rice Shopping Center, Lihue; 246-8823; and 3858 Hanapepe Road, Hanapepe; 335-3440. Both stores have 70 to 80 jars of crack seed to choose from, but the Hanapepe store--housed in a restored garage and gas station on this old town's small main street--has all the charm.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1991
Words:652
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