Big Island Local Food: The Best of the Season’s Harvest

When you think of the top five things on your must do list for your getaway to the Big Island, you might be thinking of waterfalls, beaches, sea turtles, and mountaintops. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Chances are, visiting a local farmer’s market might be a bit lower down on your list, if it even makes the cut. But if you write off a farmer’s market visit during your stay, you’ll definitely be missing out; not just on some of the best and most exotic fruits and vegetables you’ve ever tasted, but a one of a kind Big Island local food experience. With our quick-draining volcanic soil, ample sunshine and consistent rainfall, our island has everything our dedicated farmers need to grow a cornucopia of high-quality produce for our communities and our visitors. Here are just a few of the things you have to try if you visit this fall:

Most of the early mangoes are done for the summer, but the Keitts are just getting ready to drop. The best things in life are worth waiting for, and this is one of them. The late season Keitt mangoes are huge, sweet and super juicy. Be sure to choose one that has not been picked too early. It should be just starting to turn red and the stem should be brown, not green.

One of the strangest and most desirable exotic fruits grown on the Big Island is dragon fruit, or pitaya. Several different varieties of these cactus fruit are cultivated here; you may see them in varying sizes and colors ranging from pink to yellow to orange. An even greater surprise awaits when you cut one open. The flesh of the fruit can be white, pink, or dark purple. Various combinations of these colors are available. While the large, pink-skinned varieties look the most tempting, the smaller yellow and orange-skinned dragon fruits are much tastier and more refreshing.

Sharwils are the avocados that California doesn’t want you to know about. This larger, creamier, and much tastier cousin of the Hass is coming into season in the next few weeks. Sharwil avocados are known locally as the butter of the fruit world, and they are excellent spread on toast, chopped into salad, or eaten on their own. Be sure to pick an avocado that is firm but just softening if you want to enjoy it within a few days. Just like with mangoes, make sure the cut end of the stem is brown, not green.

By MKwek CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons

Breadfruit, or Ulu, is another must-try food grown right here on the Big Island. While it can be eaten ripe — it will be sweet and custardy — breadfruit is usually harvested under ripe and served steamed, boiled, or fried. The taste and texture are often compared to a potato, but really it has a profile all its own. Plus, it is much richer in nutrients! While you can prepare breadfruit on your own, it is a bit of work and you will enjoy it much more if you leave the peeling, coring, cutting and cooking to one of our local restaurants.

A few more exotic fruits are just coming into season. Be sure to look out for bunches of tiny purple jaboticaba cherries, the tangy and custardy chermoya, and the pear-like mountain apples.

As for for locally-grown vegetables, most of them are available year round. That means no matter what season you visit the Big Island, you can find Hamakua mushrooms, sweet corn, watercress, Waimea beets and carrots, eggplant and sweet pumpkins.

While you might find some of these local offerings at our grocery stores, the best places to buy our Big Island produce are our farmer’s markets. There you will not only be able to browse a wide array of fruits and vegetables, but you will have a chance to “talk story” with the hard-working farmers who grew them.

Waimea currently hosts three markets on Saturday and one on Wednesday at the Pukalani Stables. The Saturday markets open early, around 7:30 and most vendors are sold out by noon, so it pays to get there early. The Wednesday market is open from 9:00 – 3:00.

There is another market on Saturday under the banyan tree in Hawi from 8:00 – 3:00. This market has an excellent supply of produce you may not find elsewhere and a laid-back, summer-weekend-barbecue vibe.

Volcanic activity hasn’t put a damper on the bustling Pahoa farmer’s market, on Sundays from 8:00 – 2:00. The Pahoa market is the largest on the island, with an array of Puna-grown fresh produce and a feel more akin to a festival than a weekly gathering. This one is not to be missed.

Closer to Kona, there is a great market in Captain Cook at the Amy BH Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden on Sunday from 9:00 – 2:00, and another in Keauhou on Saturday from 8:00 – 12:00 that has consistently excellent produce.

Another great way to try some Big Island local food and produce is to let someone else prepare them for you. We always incorporate everything we can harvest from our land into our signature breakfasts here at our Big Island bed and breakfast, including mangoes, bananas, cherimoya, dragon fruit, herbs, arugula and chard, tomatoes, and avocados. You might also try Merriman’s in Waimea for ultra-local, high-end dining with a casual ambiance, or the low-key Sweet Potato Kitchen in Hawi for simple,¬†wholesomely-prepared, farm-to-table bites and entrees.

Lastly, although most people don’t think of coffee as a fruit, coffee beans are actually sweet seeds that grow in a “cherry.” The Kona coffee season has just begun, and coffee pickers are hard at work harvesting all of the ripe red cherries off our 4,100 coffee trees for processing and roasting. If you visit the Big Island this fall you’ll be able to enjoy some of the freshest 100% estate Kona coffee that you have ever tasted, whether you have a morning cup here at the Holualoa Inn or you sample some of the many entries in the Kona Coffee competition at this year’s Holualoa Coffee & Art Stroll.