A taste of sweet li hing mui brings back Hawaii childhood memories

One writer thinks back to his youth, while eating the salty, sweet and sour preserved plum powder.
Crack Seed Store

When it’s my turn to order at Kaimuki’s Crack Seed Store, I tell Mr. Young, the owner, that I’ll have whatever the guy in front of me had. What the guy had was a strawberry Icee with li hing mui (preserved plum) juice and vanilla ice cream inside, topped with a soggy, salty crack seed. A single sip sends me spiraling back toward my childhood.

Crack seed is an acquired taste. I struggle to remember an out-of-town friend or relative who took to the salty, sour and sweet taste of a red li hing mui seed. For me, and many others who grew up in Hawaii, crack seed reminds us of our childhoods.

It also reminds me of every care package my family sent to me after I left home. Whether out of state or out of the country, I could count on getting a box of crack seed goodies to cure homesickness, or just because I was really craving li hing mango.

The preserved plum delicacy came to Hawaii’s shores via Cantonese immigrants. Crack seed stores of old were more like treat shops, selling shave ice, ice cream and hot foods, in addition to the syrupy, preserved fruit that filled giant glass jars lining the shelves. They were mom and pop shops, much like Mr. Young’s Crack Seed Store.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Yick Lung brand mass marketed crack seed across Hawaii, stocking grocery shelves with the Chinese snack and promoting their brand on television. Readers of a certain age may remember seeing Yick Lung crack seed on the album cover of Sunday Manoa’s “Cracked Seed.” 

Today, Jade Foods is the only company in the state (and in the U.S.) making crack seed goodies on an industrial scale. Company president Deanne Ho tells me the other brands out there are imported from China, Thailand and other Asian countries. She also says that those tend to have a more medicinal flavor, unlike Hawaii’s sweeter seeds.

Maybe you grew up in Hawaii, maybe you didn’t. Whatever the case, find yourself an old-fashioned crack seed store, like Mr. Young’s, or swing by the candy aisle of your nearest Hawaii grocery store and pick up a bag of Jade Foods sweet li hing mui. It’s the one in the green and yellow package that reads, “Made in Hawaii.”

Crack Seed Store, 1156 Koko Head Ave., Honolulu, (808) 737-1022.

Categories: Island Dispatch