by Ken Love

About the Twelve Fruits With Potential Value-Added and Culinary Uses Project
Development of a Sustainable Polyculture Production and Marketing System for Exotic Tropical Fruits

The 12 Trees Project is funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) USDA-CSREES competitive grants program. Fifty-four Hawaii Island chefs, fruit buyers and growers were invited to select the types of fruit they would like to see commercially available, based on their desire to utilize the fruit in culinary applications. In selecting the final 12 fruits, considerations were given to seasonality and harvest times so that the availability of harvested fruit and on-farm labor needs were spread out over the year.

Fruit trees were planted and brought into production at a demonstration orchard at the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative on Napoopoo Road in the South Kona District. During the course of the three-year project, fruit from this orchard, as well as additional fruit purchased from area farmers, were donated to the West Hawaii Community College culinary school.

 Culinary student chefs developed recipes to be published on the project web site and in a book in the final year of the project. Members of the cooperative as well as members of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers - West Hawaii association and any other interested growers were encouraged to plant these trees. The goals of this project were to increase profitable agricultural diversification and to develop a consistently high quality, year-around supply of tropical fruit for local markets.

Review of Chosen Fruit

What follows is a random collection of thoughts concerning the individual fruits chosen for the 12 Trees project.  These thoughts include horticultural and personal observations, marketing annotations and a few thoughts on the potential or lack there of in culinary circles. I’ve also included my thoughts on alternatives to the 12 fruit which I find have greater potential for enjoyment as well as profitability than the original 12 choices.
Although the project has ended, the Hawaii Community College, West Hawaii Culinary School has continued directing students to use the 12 Trees Project fruit as part of their curriculum. Students who graduated after the first year of the project have continued to use the fruit once they started their professional careers. After exposure to the 12 chosen fruit, they have developed an increased interest in many other unusual fruit grown in the Kona district.
At the beginning of the project, I didn’t agree with many of the choices that the 54 Big Island Chefs made and more than 3 years later, tend to feel the same way. I have also altered my opinions on a few of the fruit based both on horticultural and marketing experiences.
Certainly a delicious fruit, I’m quite sure it has value as a commercial crop with some aggressive marketing. The tree does not like lower elevations where it will seldom fruit.
It does flower and even with hand pollination, the fruit is small, 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, have never fruited since being moved to the project at 430-foot elevation. Over 3 years after transplanting, they have grown fine with copious foliage growth and flowers. They have never set fruit even with hand pollination.
At the beginning of the project I would have said that cherimoya is the best tasting of the annona family of fruit. Today I would vote for rollinia. I suspect once we have enough production and chefs get a taste of the fruit, it might move cherimoya to the back seat.

Atemoya although it has fairly consistent production with a few commercial farms in the state, never really delights people the way cherimoya or rollinia does. The advantage of atemoya is that it will produce well at most elevations.  It is a cross between cherimoya (Annona cherimola) and sugar apple (Annona squamosa). The sugar apple, which is also called sweetsop, is very popular in Florida and the Caribbean. It is seldom found in Hawaii. Although there are a few producing trees, the number of fruit on a tree is far less than the same size or age of a cherimoya tree. The sugar apple is often asked for at farmers markets, by visitors and local Filipinos who are always on the quest for atis, one of the favorite fruits of the Philippines. At sometime in the future, it would be beneficial for someone to plant a wide range of the sugar apple cultivars in hopes of finding one that will be more accepting of Hawaii’s microclimates. As for me, I’ll stick with rollinia,  (Rollinia mucosa and Rollinia deliciosa). There are a number of advantages over the other annonas. It does well at most elevations, I’ve seen it produced from 300 feet to 2400 feet. With irrigation or enough rain, it produces more and consistent fruit than cherimoya. The fruit tastes like a caramel and light lemon flavored cherimoya. The only fault it seems to have is the fruit size is from very small to very large. There seems to be little consistency in that area, which is the same with most annonas. Still, the smaller fruit has the same texture and taste as the very large fruit. Something I don’t find with cherimoya, which can be overly sweet and gritty in some sizes and smooth as custard in others’. The fruit although its been untested by chefs as well as most growers can be used in any dishes that chefs currently use cherimoya or atemoya for Crème Brulee and ice cream or sorbet would have an extra complexity from the rollinia that could be highly desirable.
The profitability of all of these fruit can be considerable if a grower develops good relationships with chefs and stores. We’ve had no problem to sell any number of annonas both wholesale and at retail farmers markets. In my experience of marketing fruit in Hawaii, I’ve only seen rollinia sold at a 2 grocery stores and at perhaps half dozen farmers markets. I’ve never seen chefs experiment with it and quite frankly; I tend to eat or sell the ones I grow rather than send samples to chefs. I do pot the seeds and plan to increase my production as well as consumption. Savvy growers will plant rollinia instead of cherimoya and plan to market it aggressively.

One of my earliest childhood memories was enjoying a wheel of dried figs from Greece. I was amazed at the taste and texture of something that to my 5-year-old mind was also to be played with. It wasn’t until I was much older that I understand the difference in fresh and dried figs and I still enjoy working with both. The USDA germplasam depository in Davis Calif. has 139 types of figs in their collection, only a handful of which are growing in Hawaii. This presents us with many opportunities for growers, chefs and those who develop value added products. Some of the figs taste very different from others. Figs were by far the most profitable of the 12 Trees Project fruit, sometimes at 10 times the value of Kona 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 Turkey tree in South Kona. Within a year it produced its first fruit. Within 7 years it produced over 4000 fruit in 1 year, in part, due to aggressive pruning and shaping. Since figs produce only on new growth, its always advisable to prune to keep the tree short and let it grow outward rather than upward. If you turn your back on it for more than a month you’ll wind up with 25 foot shoots that head straight up. The trees lend themselves to espalier as well as being weighted down or tied to stakes, which is the common method in Japan.
Figs lend themselves to a virtually unlimited number of culinary delights and value added products. A quick study at any international food show such as Food Ex in Tokyo each March will reveal hundreds of fig products from Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Japan, Iran and Iraq. A small dried whole fig from Iran is popular in Japan used in baked breads and other confections. A few products we produce with seconds and culls include fig macadamia nut spread and dried fig pieces in locally produced honey. These sell out quickly at farmers markets in Kona.
There is always the question of what would happen when there are 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 waiting list. There were two times during the year where we had an excess of figs, some of which were sold to small restaurants. We requests from chefs to be able to add figs to the menu and from restaurants on other islands, I’m convinced that we have a way to go before the market would be saturated at which time the need to focus on value added products would become apparent.
Many growers in the area who have figs wondered how they could better rid themselves of birds who often peck at the ripe figs. We found that silver or gold Mylar tape, Christmas garland or tinsel, pie plates, aluminum foil or any reflective material hung in the tree served as an effect deterrent for up to 3 months. At that time the birds came back. When we added or moved the reflective material the birds disappeared again. We found this necessary, on average, every 3 months. Old CD ROMs hung from string on the trees were very effective. In the future I hope to conduct tests using ultrasound deterrents. If I had an extra acre now, I would screen the whole place in and plant figs.

This is one of the most delightful fruits I’ve run across. It’s more labor intensive to harvest and package than some of the others but it has great potential.  With a taste that reminds people of black cherry and Concord grape or jaboticaba, it is usually enjoyed fresh off the tree. One of the problems is in fighting the birds that also love the fruit. Fortunately older trees are very prolific and there is usually enough to go around. Using Mylar tap and metallic reflective materials is effective but not as much so as with figs.
The fruit is largely untested by the majority of chefs around the state. The few who we have been able to supply with samples are anxious to get more both to use as fresh fruit on buffet lines and in dessert confections. The shelf life is rather short and post harvest care is essential with grumichama if it is going to be marketed as a fresh fruit. Single layer clamshell packs containing fruit with the stem on was the most desirable form of presentation at a grocery store in Kona and for delivery to chefs.
Picking the fruit with the stem on is somewhat cumbersome but helps to increase the shelf life of the fruit. If I’m picking the fruit with 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 be done by hand as none of the processors or juicers were effective as the soft seed would be damaged and the puree would contain too much grit or seed material. This could be strained but was more time consuming than removing the seeds by hand. We would sit down to watch a DVD for 2 hours and process enough fruit to produce 10 cups of puree.
We produced jelly, syrup and various sauces with the grumichama, all of which tested well and sold out at farmers markets. I’m looking forward to working with this fruit and experimenting with ice cream and fudge recipes.
This seems to be a largely misunderstood fruit with new chefs on the island. I believe this is due to the common confusion between calamonsie, or calamondin, fruit with the kumquat.
The calamonsie is a lime often grown by the states Filipino farmers. It is round and about the same quarter sized diameter as the Meiwa kumquat. Chefs are more familiar with the Nagami or elongated kumquat commonly grown 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 the fruit is obviously well known in most areas. Many of these recipes are considered classics. I feel this fruit was chosen by chefs because of these classic recipes as well as the culinary versatility of the fruit. When I had extra fruit I would bring it to the local Chinese restaurant where they would use it with a variety of dishes. We also processed the fruit and made marmalade, jelly, and bottled whole fruit in a light syrup to preserve it. In Japan it is commonly used to flavor the distilled alcohol, shochu or processed into a brandy like liquor. In Taiwan, it is dried and candied.
Highly versatile, the kumquat has a bright future for chefs in Hawaii.

One of my favorite fruits, the loquat history is as interesting and complex as its flavor.
Having spent at least a month out of each year for more almost 10 years studying this fruit in Japan, I’m convinced that it’s potential in the US as a fresh fruit or for culinary use and in value added products is virtually unlimited. At the Biwa  (Japanese for loquat) Club in Southern Chiba Japan, about 4 hours from Tokyo, there are more than 2000 items for sale made with the fruit or reflecting the image of loquat. Many streets in Tokyo have loquat trees planted as part of the landscaping, some of these from the late 1940’s.
Arguably one of the most popular fruits in the world, there is a name for loquat in many languages except English although the fruit is sometimes called Japanese medlar. The fruit is mentioned in Chinese and Japanese historical documents dating back 5000 years. Europeans first exposure to the fruit was in the late 1600s. Spain is currently the top producing country. There is continuing research throughout the Mediterranean region as well as all over Asia.
It is thought that early Chinese immigrants first brought the fruit to Hawaii, perhaps even before Captain Cooks time. The fruit and trees were described y early visitors to Maui.
Many of Hawaii’s residents who have limited knowledge of the fruit do not find it that exciting, often complaining that’s very small, sour and has large seeds. This happens because most of he trees are seedlings, which have become invasive in parts of the state.
These trees can be thinned, top worked and grafted with newer varieties developed in Japan.
To get fruit that that is really a taste treat and desired by chefs, a fair amount of labor is required. Once you’ve tried a “perfect” loquat, 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 Japan fruit sold in the spring is sized with 12 of the largest fruit going for as much as $50.00! Hawaii can produce loquat at different times of the year than any other location where it’s grown. We could produce the fruit for New Year celebrations, which in past years, the Japanese Loquat Cooperative has expressed an interest in.
In Hawaii the fruit must be grown inside bags to protect it from fruit flies, birds and from sunburn. This, only after both the flowers and fruit has been thinned which helps in producing larger sized fruit. Higher elevations are better for the larger sized fruit but it will produce in lower areas. If we had enough production of loquat in November and December, I feel that opening the Japanese market would not be a problem. Getting the support of the Japanese would not be as much of a problem given we follow their growing guidelines and stick to the varieties of loquat 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 mimicked here. 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 any locally grown raspberry. It is also on the state noxious weed list for all islands except the Big Island, meaning that it is illegal to plant outside of the Big Island. Here, it is on a number of invasive lists. I would not recommend growing it but not for the reason of potential invasiveness. I feel the plant is highly misunderstood and should be separated from other rubus plants. It does not send up shoots from the roots like thimbleberry or other raspberries. Birds seldom spread it, and the seeds are hard to germinate. In more than 15 years in South Kona, I could only get a second plant by rooting the tips of the long canes. The problem comes from the fishhook type thorns, which can make it extremely painful to harvest. It’s a lot of work for little or no profit. The fruit tastes very good, chefs like it, and it is nice to have a fresh raspberry growing in a tropical location, but this plant is a pain to harvest. I would hope that in the future a thornless strain could be developed.

This is a delightful fruit that is also a lot of work. I might not have chosen it if it were not for its history as part of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. The poha is always in demand by chefs and has not achieved its rightful place among the states more popular fruit. This due to the nature of the plant and the time it takes to harvest and husk enough quantity to make a difference. I do think that a dedicated poha farmer could find other growing systems that would facilitate ease of harvest and cut into the labor intensiveness of preparing fruit for sale. What surprised me during the course of the project were the time trials for harvesting and husking the fruit. Even at $7.00 a pound, poha was not profitable. It routinely sells for $2.50 to $3.50 in local markets. I buy it all 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. It’s very time consuming. We tried a number of different growing systems: trellises, raised beds, fences and a volunteer plant. There was no discernable difference in the amount of time to harvest and husk fruit from any of these systems although the experience does give me a number of ideas to try in the future to save harvest time.
Chefs enjoy working with the fruit and creating a number of different dishes. The fruit could be considered an identifier in much Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. While larger jelly makers on Oahu and Kauai will call when looking for 3000 to 5000 pounds, I have a tough time getting 50 pounds for a big Island restaurant. Although considered invasive, there is just not enough of the fruit to go around. Then again, if the price paid was in keeping with the time involved, maybe there would be.
When the project started, I would often say that I would have never chosen pomegranate for this project! Don’t get me wrong, I love them but there are so many coming in from Calif. and so many products from a number of producing regions that we have kind of a glut of pomegranate thanks to all the 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 with it, they wanted fresh. What I learned since the start of the project was that the USDA Germplasam Repository in Davis, Ca., has 189 types of pomegranate in their collection. This opens many possibilities for growers here who wish to work with the plant. The fruit sells well at farmers markets with most people saying they just eat it fresh. A few people mentioned that they make juice from it. One of the advantages in growing it here is that the plant does well in dry lower elevations. The famous botanist David Fairchild first sent pants to the US in the late 1800s from the desert around Baghdad.
If I was going to plant pomegranate now, I would look into many of the more unusual varieties available through the USDA Germplasam Repository and plant known varieties rather than air layers made from seedlings here.
Rangpur “Kona” Lime
My first exposure to what I now call the Kona Lime happened many 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 and even had the little white strings often found.
I tease people who try it now that it is what made my hair fall out. Originally brought here as a rootstock for sweet citrus, the grafts died off and people often forgot about the trees with the “sour orange”. Some chefs found the fruit in the 1980s and started using it for confections and in lime pies. A slice of lime is often found in ice tea or drinks at Kona’s older restaurants. Student chefs at the culinary 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 that they have this lime and just think of it as a sour orange. Once they find out that it is a lime, it seems to open a world of possibilities both for recipes and marketing of the fresh fruit.
The only drawback with the fruit are the numerous long and very sharp thorns on the trees’. Some trees have little or no thorns and they should be the ones that are propagated. Seedling trees often produce fruit within a few years but the thorns sometimes make harvesting difficult and, because of the thorns, often painful. The marmalade we make from this fruit is some of the best I’ve had anywhere.
Surinam Cherry
The acquired taste of this fruit makes it a hard sell at many of the farmers markets but those who love it, swear by it. A test underway at the Kainaliu experiment station will help to determine a number of select black varieties of the usually red fruit. The black Surinam cherries are sweeter and less resinous than the common red varieties. This is one of those fruits 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, it’s impossible to gather enough fruit to fulfill their needs. Chefs and student chefs have been very creative with the fruit. The red curry base made with its juice is very good. Fruit flies and birds are a major deterrent to harvesting fruit in the wild. A number of researchers feel this fruit has great potential as a cash crop for Hawaii. I tend to agree but it can be labor intensive and, as the fruit is fragile, it requires special care in post harvest handling.
Tree Tomato / Tamarillo
Another fruit with great potential, the tree tomato is rapidly becoming a favorite of many chefs. Their fondness for tamarillo comes from the fruits adaptability to be used both as savory and meat sauces as well as sweetened for a dessert sauce. When I first started producing the fruit I simply peeled it and cut it into salads, finding the taste much better than common tomatoes. Now I make sauces and reductions for use with scallops, vegetables or in other dishes. Simple jams and ketchup made from the fruit are delicious. There is some confusion with the use of both names. New Zealand named the fruit tamarillo, which has caught on in many locations as they are large producers and fruit from that country is often found at local stores as well as in mainland markets. The fruit has been grown locally for many years and known as tree tomato. If we increase production and local sales, it might be good to devise a Hawaiian name in order to better promote and market the fruit and recipes developed at resort hotels using it. Although not near as profitable as figs, the fruit does have great potential, both economically and for the chef’s to be creative and develop a competitive edge.

Tropical Apricot
As one of the first growers of this fruit, I’ve always had a fondness for it in sauces and as a juice. Considered to sour or most, I found it refreshing and extremely versatile for uses in sauces and jellies. I still enjoy the fruit but after working with the father of this natural occurring hybrid, kitembilla, (also called Ceylon Gooseberry), I find that I’ve developed a fondness for this as well, perhaps even more so than tropical apricot. I feel the Dovyalis fruit which include a number of cultivars have great potential. Generally sour tasting and with nasty thorns, the fruit tends to hybridize when different seedlings are planted in proximity to each other. Trees of both fruit at the project site produce fruit with different characteristics than their parent trees. I feel with a significant amount of selection work, sweeter, thornless types would evolve making it much more desirable as a fresh fruit. Not withstanding, the chefs very much desire the tropical apricot and we have no problem selling all that we can produce. This seldom leaves us enough for jam making. Chefs at the resorts 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 local names.  
What I feel is needed most in Kona is a processing facility for fruit which would include a community kitchen or a private company that purchases fruit and produces frozen purees and products made from 100% locally grown fruit. Currently many of the resort hotels buy frozen guava, lilikoi and mango puree from the Montreal office of a French company! Hotel chefs here often request frozen puree, which, we cannot produce in quantity at local facilities and with the limited labor available. We also receive a number of requests each month from mainland chefs. I would urge county and state government in conjunction with the university to make this happen.

There are many other fruit that deserve equal attention to those of the 12 Trees Project.  Over the course of this project we have been able to discuss in more detail the hundreds of fruit and thousands of varieties with many growers and chefs. The difference in varieties is something that is just beginning to make inroads with the chefs here. With 200 types of avocados, 200 types of mangos and more than 50 types of bananas, there are many avenues for chefs to take their creativity. There is not a sufficient quantity of many of these fruit types to promote them across the board but growers who have the unusual varieties can market them as a limited high value crop. With some of the rare Hawaiian bananas, we’ve found that being able to give chefs and grocery stores the fruit history in the form of a sign they can post for their guests and customers. This greatly helps to increase the value. In short, once growers are educated as to what they have, they in turn can educate their customers who in turn pass the information on to their customers. We’ve seen the value of some rare bananas increase 300% in the past 2 years.
Other fruit that I hope we can work with in the near future include jaboticaba, rollinia, acerola and white sapote.  Developing value added products from bilimbi, small starfruit and soursop would also benefit a number of area growers.  Jackfruit and breadfruit are others that deserve special attention from researchers.
Much needs to be done to dispel many myths regarding local fruit. Growers often perpetuate these myths but more so by the stores who often resist selling some types of fruit like pummelo and breadfruit. Many of the buyers who have been in the produce business for 30 or more years still operate on 30-year old demographics. To them, every home already has a breadfruit tree or pummelo tree. It took some time to convince one of the local markets to sell “ugly” local lemons, (jambhiri) but once they decided to take a chance they found that the lemons sell very well. I’m sure this would be true of many other fruit given shelf space in the already squeezed produce section.
With the ever increasing numbers of new farmers, those moving to the Kona district who have little or no experience in tropical agriculture, an opportunity exists in the form of new interest in the more unusual crops grown, this in terms of using and marketing. For example strawberry guava, which is considered highly invasive and can easily be found in 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 on their land but did not know what it was or that it was edible. This was true for Surinam Cherry and a few other fruit I tested.
I also found that many of the new farmers had little knowledge of the differences between other types of fruit that were commonly confused, like passion fruit and guava. Some new farmers feared fruit that appeared to grow in unusual formations like jaboticaba and wi apple. All of this experience tells me there is a need for continuing education regarding tropical fruit. Horticulture, post-harvest, marketing and the assistance in developing value added products will contribute to the overall rural economic development and sustainability of small farms found across the state. When agtourism is added to the equation, a grower soon finds that priorities tend to change in the direction of profitability. A number of new farmers in South Kona now plant newly cleared land with agtourism in mind rather than production crops. This greater diversity will lead to greater profits and again, sustainability.

Back to the
Twelve Fruits Pages
Mysore raspberry
Poha (Cape gooseberry)
Rangpur (“Kona”) lime
Surinam Cherry
Tree tomato (tamarillo)
Tropical apricot


Love, Ken. "The Twelve Trees Project." Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Org. 2007. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

Published 17 Mar. 2016 LR. Last update 27 June 2017 LR
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