The best description I’ve heard of a crack seed store was that it resembled a science laboratory in Asia. Asia, yes – crack seed comes from China. Science lab, maybe? At the front of most stores, the preserved dried fruit sits in large glass jars – similar to fermented science experiments waiting to be poked and prodded. Except, crack seed’s much tastier.
Find some of Hawaii’s original crack seed stores in Chinatown.
The dried fruit has a wide range of flavors to appease your taste buds. Crack seed can be super salty, super sweet or so sour that your face instantly squishes inward. Most would agree that this favorite Hawaii snack looks strange, peculiar even, with its odd, dried up shapes. A newb might mistakenly decide it’s too old to consume. But really, crack seed looks that way because it has been preserved with salt.
Its name refers to the seed in the dried fruit that has been cracked to add more flavor. The Chinese originally called it li hing mui, which means “traveling plum.” For centuries, Chinese preserved dried fruit to satiate their hunger during treacherous travels through China’s mountainous terrain. Plum being one of the more common snacks. The salt helped to replenish the salt lost when they sweated and prevented muscle cramps.
Crack seed came to Hawaii by way of immigrants’ pockets. They started selling them in small Chinatown shops, eventually making local varieties. Today, you’ll find the traditional kind – plums, lemons and ginger. But the Hawaii specialties have taken over and include li hing mango, li hing arare, li hing gummy bears and much more. Although the li hing craze may be slowly fading, that hasn’t stopped creativity from seeping into li hing mui margaritas, li hing vinaigrette and even li hing cake!
Step out of your comfort zone when you’re in Hawaii, and try one of the islands’ most exotic flavors! Find them at a supermarket or at most mom-and-pop stores.