Waianae Gold Kiawe Flour
Like son, like father. Vince Dodge is trying to do for kiawe flour what his son, Daniel Anthony, is doing for taro and paiai. Except there's one problem: Kiawe is an introduced plant with no ties to native Hawaiian culture, unlike taro, which is deeply intertwined. Which means that Hawaii's knowledge of kiawe is pretty close to zero, at least when it comes to using it as a food source.
Eight years ago, a couple from Arizona introduced Dodge to kiawe (or mesquite) flour—a sweet, gluten-free flour with an aroma of molasses and coconut— made by milling dried kiawe pods. Turns out, the tree we see mostly as a source of firewood and painful thorns actually yields a staple for Southwestern tribes and some Andean cultures.
Dodge traveled to learn more. He went to Tucson, Arizona and learned to mill kiawe beans into flour. He destroyed a few blenders and coffee grinders before purchasing a mill made specifically for kiawe, upping his production to 300 gallons of beans at a time.
“But I began to realize that we were groping around in the dark with kiawe,” says Dodge. “This wasn't an original plant or food for us. Daniel, my son, is going back to the original recipe [with taro and paiai]. When you have that, you have a foundation to play off of.”
Dodge didn’t. Almost all the recipes he came across used very little kiawe flour. Wouldn’t it be great to find recipes that were straight mesquite, he thought. To do that, he needed to “hang out with people for whom kiawe is their main tree,” he says. He headed to northern Argentina, with no connections and no plan, and just by chance, happened upon a Wichi tribe who showed him how they ate kiawe flour. (The secret: lots of pounding and some water. Sound familiar?) From them, he derived his popular Waianae Gold Aina Bar, a dense, raw energy bar of kiawe flour, peanut butter and honey. “They’re the gateway drug to kiawe,” Dodge says.
Since then, Honolulu pastry chefs have picked up on kiawe flour, like a strawberry cheesecake with kiawe flour crumbles at MW Restaurant and kiawe flour “cornbread” and chocolate chip cookies at Highway Inn. Dodge has even fielded inquiries from Big Island Candies and the Halekulani.
Dodge wants to make clear, though, his “first priority is not a business that makes kiawe flour. Our vision is not some large factory in Waianae. Our vision is many many mills in different community organizations, small businesses that are number one feeding their community.” In addition to selling the kiawe flour, Dodge trains Waianae youth and works with the drug rehab center to harvest and dry the beans and produce the flour.
Though the flour is available at Kokua Market in town, Dodge says he sells more of it at the Waianae farmers market: “We get everybody from the surfers to the lifeguards to the aunty, uncle and kupuna” interested in what he calls a “brand new ancient food.”
“This is gold,” he says. “That's why we call it that.”
waianaegold.com for more info and recipes
Find Waianae Gold kiawe flour at Kokua Market for $12.99 a pound