Local food tours are delicious ways
When Angela Villa was a child growing up in Florida, her parents were very strict about what the family ate and thus, chocolate was a no-no throughout her childhood. Today, Villa is a chocolatier and co-owner of Garden Island Chocolate on Hawaii’s Kauai island. She and her husband, Koa Kahili, were the first on the island to grow and harvest cacao and turn it into chocolate for commercial purposes. Three mornings a week, they lead cacao plantation tours teaching chocolate lovers the delicate art of growing cacao.
A tour with Garden Island Chocolate is just one of many “ono” (delicious) experiences for learning and understanding the Hawaiian culture. These agricultural tours look at taro, pineapple, coffee, and of course, cacao.
Cacao Tours and Chocolate Festivals
Cacao grows in a narrow region of the world about 10- to 15-degrees on either side of the equator; Kauai is in the northernmost growing region. Cacao trees are most productive when they are at least five years old. There are about 30 to 50 beans per pod; it takes about 400 beans to make a pound of chocolate.
Garden Island Chocolate tours last about three hours and include a sufficient amount of time for tasting chocolate. Bring a raincoat and closed-toed shoes because the tours go on, rain or shine, and you’ll be walking through wet grass and uneven surfaces. Pack plenty of tissues or moist towelettes in your pocket; chocolate tasting at the end of the garden tour gets a little messy.
On the island of Hawaii, enjoy another chocolate experience at the Original Hawaii Chocolate Factory in the Keauhou area of Kailua-Kona. These are shorter tours – just an hour – but you do get plenty of chocolate to sample.
Plan a visit to coincide with the annual Big Island Chocolate Festival (April 28 and 29), an event that includes agriculture seminars, culinary demonstrations, and more. Note that this festival, which will be at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, is best suited for adults.
Another tempting festival is the annual Hawaii Chocolate Festival on Oahu in October (2017 dates weren’t available at press time). This is a one-day event without a plantation tour, but there are tastings and workshops. Among the speakers are cacao growers who talk about the agricultural components of creating a flavorful batch of chocolate.
Taro Farm and Rice Mill Tours
Few foods are as symbolic of the Hawaiian culture as taro, also known as kalo. If you’ve been to a luau and tasted poi, you’ve eaten taro. Taro’s starchy tuber, known as a corm, is the central ingredient of poi, a staple in Hawaiian cuisine.
When on Kauai, visit the Hanalei Taro & Juice Company for a 3½-hour tour that covers taro and rice production. You’ll experience part of their wildlife refuge, too. See the historical Haraguchi Rice Mill that operates as an agrarian museum. A picnic lunch showcasing items grown on site also is included with the tour.
While visiting Maui, kick your shoes off and get your feet and hands muddy with a little hands-on taro farming at the Kapahu Living Farm in Hana. This two-hour tour combines an active three-mile hike into Haleakala National Park and some fabulous scenery, including the 400-foot Waimoku Falls.
Fortunately, pineapple grows year-round and most plantations rotate their fields so that a crop is always ripening. Therefore, no matter what time of year you visit, you’ll be able to witness all stages of pineapple production.
The Dole Plantation Tour on Oahu’s North Shore is among the most popular food tours in the U.S. Visitors of all ages can enjoy the train ride and a huge agriculture maze. You’ll want to plan for lunch that offers only “grown-in-Hawaii” fare.
But for a smaller operation that offers a more family-farm experience, check out the Maui Pineapple Tours near Makawao on the island of Maui. This working pineapple plantation focuses more on the educational and agricultural component of this tropical fruit. The sweetest pineapple on earth is grown here – the Maui Gold – and you’ll have multiple opportunities for a taste on the 90-minute tour. The cost includes an airplane-ready, boxed pineapple to take home as a souvenir.
The island of Hawaii is the only place in the United States where the climate is the perfect combination of heat and moisture to grow arabica coffee beans. Kona’s coffee-growing region is on the Hualalai and Maunaloa volcanic slopes in the North and South Kona Districts, making this coffee rare, desirable, and thus expensive.
Most Kona coffee is produced on small family farms of just a few acres each. There are more than 600 such farms in the Kona district that generate more than 2 million pounds of coffee beans each year. The harvest, all done by hand, is from August to January.
Start at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, operated by the Kona Historical Society. Here, you could see a Kona Nightingale, the donkeys that could carry up to 400 pounds of coffee from the field to drying platforms. After World War II, they were replaced with jeeps. Hands-on activities at the farm — depending on the season — can include picking or roasting coffee beans.
Just down the road is Greenwell Farms, a 100-acre coffee plantation that has been in the Greenwell family since the 1850s. Tom Greenwell’s great-grandmother planted nearly 100 of these trees by hand. The farm is adjacent to his family ancestral site, which the historical society today operates as the H.N. Greenwell General Store. Step inside and get a glimpse into the 1890s coffee ranch era.
The farm today ships its green coffee beans around the world. With its own roasting facility on site, Greenwell also ships whole-bean or ground coffee to Kona lovers.
A particularly fun time for coffee lovers to visit the island of Hawaii is during the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, which is held over 10 days in early November. A variety of events immerse visitors in the island’s coffee culture.
Informative and entertaining, these agricultural tours can give visitors a unique taste of Hawaii.
Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.
March/April 2017 Issue
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