Farm Friday: Locally Grown Acai at Kahuku Farms
This small farm in Kahuku may be the first in Hawai‘i to grow its own acai berries and use them to make acai bowls.
Kahuku Farms started growing acai palms eight years ago, and has recently started making its own acai bowls at the farm’s roadside café.
Photo: Courtesy of Kahuku Farms
This dish has been eight years in the making.
That’s how long it took for the hundreds of acai palm trees growing at Kahuku Farms on the North Shore to bear fruit. And then it took a few more months for farm managers Kylie Matsuda-Lum and her husband, Judah Lum, to figure out how to process the berries.
“We originally thought we would harvest it, wash it and throw it into a blender, but that was not the case,” says Matsuda-Lum, 38, a fourth-generation O‘ahu farmer. “Acai has a large seed and a small layer of flesh that surrounds the seed. We had to learn how to remove the flesh without cracking the seed. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen figuring out a process.”
After more than 20 different incarnations—perfecting consistency and texture, toying with toppings—the couple rolled out in February what’s likely the first locally grown acai bowl in Hawai‘i, available at the farm’s roadside café.
The bowl ($10) features a frozen purée of acai berries—both juice and pulp—locally grown apple bananas, more berries, a vanilla-haupia sauce and agave. That’s topped with slices of apple banana, a drizzle of the farm’s liliko‘i butter (instead of honey) and a crumble of graham crackers, granola and macadamia nuts that Lum’s mom created. The texture is creamy, the purée is tangy, the liliko‘i butter is surprisingly complementary and the crumble adds sweetness and crunch. The entire bowl is just different enough to make the 45-minute drive from Downtown to Kahuku worthwhile. And if you happen to already be on the North Shore, it's a no-brainer.
The toppings make this acai bowl different from any other: liliko‘i drizzle instead of honey and a house-made crumble with graham crackers and macadamia nuts.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
The magnitude of what this couple has accomplished needs some perspective: Growing acai palms isn’t easy. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are very few places with the right climate—classified as Plant Hardiness Zones—to grow this palm native to tropical Central and South America. Turns out Hawai‘i is one of those places.
Still, it wasn’t easy.
“The conditions for growing it in Kahuku are different from where it’s from,” Lum explains. “It likes shade, moisture and wind protection. It took a really long time for the plant to produce fruit.”
So far, the café has been selling about 20 to 30 bowls a day—and that’s without any marketing, save for a photo on Instagram. But, once the word is out, I predict this acai bowl will be the coolest frozen treat of the summer.
Kahuku Farms, 56-800 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku, (808) 293-8159, kahukufarms.com
This is part of an occasional series called Farm Friday, which highlights Hawai‘i’s vibrant and diverse agricultural industry. Every month we will visit farms, talk to food producers and discuss issues that affect the community from which our food comes.