The Sweet and Oh-So-Sour Story of Li Hing Mui

Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > The Sweet and Oh-So-Sour Story of Li Hing Mui

Hawaii has some of the best foods in the world. At least to this local we do. From underground baked kalua pig to poi, Hawaii has created a one-of-a-kind menu that both tourists and locals enjoy time and time again. One such food is li hing mui (lee-HEE-moo-EE), which is more of a snack of sorts. It’s a culmination of the “Tasty S’s” – Sweet, Sour, Salty.

Li hing mui treats sell quickly at most Hawaii stores. The powder (right) can be added to almost any food.

Li hing mui is loosely translated as being the “traveling plum” and originated from China. During the 1880s to the early 1920s, immigrants came to Hawaii to work in the plantations. Chinese immigrants brought the plum, dried it, played with its taste and soon, the li hing mui evolved into the modern-day flavor with which most are familiar. Li hing mui takes the form of powder or crack seeds, which is a variety of dehydrated and preserved fruits. The powder itself is added to all types of snacks, from dried mango to cuddle fish.

First-timers who try li hing mui would cringe at the taste of it; not because it tastes bad but because of the initial tangy bitter bite that hits the tongue. The taste isn’t for everyone; it’s an acquired taste, much like the blandness of poi or sweetness of squid luau.

A favorite among locals, li hing mui is added to a variety of other foods to enhance their flavor. Fruits and li hing mui go together like peanut butter and jelly. I personally love to put li hing mui crack seeds in the middle of a cut orange. It can also be added to apples to make a tangy sweet and savory snack.

Another way to utilize the unique taste of li hing mui is to add them to your favorite drinks. Li hing mui within a Passion Orange Guava margarita mix and ice makes for a refreshing drink. For a non-alcoholic way to quench your thirst, try li hing mui shave ice.

The signature mark of li hing mui is that your fingers, teeth and tongue are left with a reddish-orange-colored stain. Li hing mui can be used for dyes, although it’s often eaten more than used to make rust-like red spiral patterns on T-shirts.

Li hing mui mostly frequents Asian and Hawaiian markets; it wouldn’t normally be found in stores on the mainland unless they have Asian food aisles. A bag of li hing powder costs about $4. The biggest distributors of li hing mui is “Enjoy,” based in Taiwan. “Asia Trans” is Hawaii’s local distributor, located in Kona on the Big Island.

All in all, li hing mui is a flavorful experience that is a must if you want to try out a more interesting tropical taste.

This is Dylan’s first post to the Hawaii Vacations blog. He comes from the Big Island and is a senior at Kamehameha’s Kapalama High School.


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