In the lush land of Hawaii there lies a flavor so unique and regional, that it’s almost a secret from Mainlanders. I speak of li hing mui, which is a Chinese salty dried plum with a flavor so ubiquitous in Hawaii that nearly everyone has some in their home. Directly translated, li hing mui means “traveling plum,” though the name is often shortened to just “li hing” and is also known locally as “crack seed” and “see mui.” The local treat has a complex flavor profile—definitely salty, but not overly; sweet, but still has a savory element; and a little bit sour as well. Described as “addicting” and “distinct” by those in our office, li hing mui answers the call of consumers for more global options at retail.
Li hing mui comes in so many shapes and forms—red or white, salty or sweet, wet or dry, seedless or shredded, and very often powdered. Traditional li hing mui is a shriveled, dried plum that consumers suck on and eat the flesh. But warn your shoppers not to bite down; there’s a seed inside! The powdered form, however, is where li hing mui gets really versatile. It can be sprinkled over fresh and dried fruits like mango or pineapple, and added to candy, popcorn, ice cream, and, my personal favorite, margaritas! This is far from an exhaustive list, however, as restaurants, bars, and Hawaii residents continue to find new and creative ways to feature the flavor.
Most everyone in Hawaii knows that li hing mui is not native to the island, but was brought over in the late 19th century by Chinese plantation workers who moved to the islands. The best way to experience this flavor is to take a trip to an authentic crack seed shop. For me, trips to the crack seed shop were a childhood treat. Neat rows of large glass jars lined the walls of the shop, filled to the brim with different varieties of li hing mui. The friendly li hing mui purveyors carefully doled out bags by weight. As children, we, of course, overindulged. With fingers stained bright red and tongues lacerated from the salt content, it was a lesson in moderation.
The local treat has a complex flavor profile—definitely salty, but not overly; sweet, but still has a savory element; and a little bit sour as well.
But not everyone is lucky enough to have access to the magic of crack seed shops, so why not be a flavor pioneer and bring this experience to your stores?
While plentiful in Hawaii, li hing mui is rarely seen in Mainland retail locations—usually only in international markets. Online retailers are currently the best place to find these regional treats, giving brick-and-mortar retailers a unique opportunity. Now is a good time for retailers to jump on board the li hing mui train to discover and share the flavor before everyone else does, so you can spout the age-old hipster phrase that you “knew about it before it was popular.”