Cracked Seed

Article first published as Cracked Seed on Technorati.
When I lived on the Mainland, there was a shop that carried unique foods. One of my family’s favorites was small preserved cherries, but they were rarely in stock.

These fruits had not been pickled, but instead seasoned and dehydrated. Shriveled and puckered, they looked like cherry-raisins. My wife told me that these preserved cherries are Hawaiian cracked seed, and that we could buy them by the pound on Oahu.

Cracked seed is a category of snack food or treats. One sub-category is flavored sugary candy, but the majority of cracked seed are spiced dried fruits or preserved seafood. As Hawaii‘s government reported that the state imports 85% of the food eaten, food preservation is a critical step to using food properly. To meet this need, cracked seed preserves foodstuffs for later use.

The flavor profile tends to be sour and/or tart, even with gummi candy and dried papaya (arguably one of the sweeter fruits). Typical cracked seed are wasabi peas, dried scallops, dehydrated cuttlefish, li hing mui, and my beloved preserved cherries. You learn to gnaw around the seed, which is typically retained inside the fruit.

Li hing mui, an intense tart preserved plumCracked seed is not for everyone. An unnamed relative actually described the preserved cherries we sent him as ‘gross’, and my sister had less than favorable reviews for some of the items in her birthday package.

Heed this warning: cracked seed can be an acquired taste. Some people may prefer them to candies, but the flavor profile sharply veers away from the American palate, with a dominance of savory, tart, and bitter. Sweet is sometimes the focus, but the typical sugary candy is difficult to find in a cracked seed shop; most corn-sugar candies have been dusted with ground li hing mui, a intense dried plum that rivels alum powder for puckering ability.

Notably, cracked seed is rarely available on the Mainland, and can be costly outside of the Hawaii islands. Locating a reliable source of these delicacies can be an adventure in itself.

The best place to buy is in Hawaii itself. The cracked seed trade is booming, with entire shops that stock nothing but shelf upon shelf of the savory treats. If you want to really amaze your friends with something unique from Hawaii, bring some home.

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