Li hing mui is one of those foods that's either met with joy or disgust; there is no in-between. I've witnessed people's faces implode with horror as they try it for the first time, and I've seen the faces of li hing-lovers light up at the sight of their longtime favorite snack. So what is this divisive red food?
Li hing mui, often called li hing for short, is what people in Hawai'i call salted dried plum. It's known for its distinctive sweet-salty-sour flavor, which can be off-putting to people who haven't grown up eating it.
You can find li hing sold in two main ways: whole, or as a powder. Most people eat whole li hing like they would a piece of hard candy, and spit out the pit when they're done with it. The whole form comes in many varieties: dried, or drenched in li hing sauce; with the pit, or without it. The powder, on the other hand, is usually not eaten alone, but used like a condiment to flavor other things like fruits, drinks, and assorted snacks.
You can eat li hing however you like, but these are some of the more popular ways to enjoy it:
The whole seed
I can see how li hing could seem scary to those who've never seen it before; it's not the most attractive food out there. Don't judge it by its looks, though, it's perfect for when you're craving something sweet and salty. Just pop it in your mouth and enjoy!
Li hing powder is commonly sprinkled on apples, pineapples, and other tropical fruit. You'll find it in any soccer mom's arsenal of game-day snacks.
In an Icee
For those of you going to UHM: there's a "crack seed" store, or, a store that specializes in li hing and other snacks, on Wai'alae that sells bomb li hing Icees. Your choice of a strawberry, melon, coke, or vanilla Icee mixed with li hing juice, for only $1.95. Amazing.
You'll find li hing gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, peach rings, and strawberry belts in basically any supermarket in Hawai'i. They often come pre-packaged with li hing powder on them, but you can always add more to your liking.
On shave ice
Li hing adds a needed kick of saltiness to lemonade. You can find li hing lemonade at farmers' markets and similar events. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf stores in Hawai'i also sell li hing lemonade as a product regularly.
On kakimochi or arare
Kakimochi, also called arare, is a savory toasted rice cracker snack originally from Japan that has long been adopted as local. The li hing adds sweetness to the umami flavor of the kakimochi.
The plain powder
Remember Fun Dip candy? Same idea here, except there's no pre-packaged candy stick. Indulge in the nostalgia of eating straight-up li hing goodness out of the bag.
Li hing is powerful not only in flavor, but as a symbol of local culture in Hawai'i regardless of generation. Older folk probably have nostalgic childhood memories of buying their favorite variation of li hing for a few cents at a crack-seed store, and I'm sure everyone in our generation has begged their parents for a li hing snack from Longs at some point in their life. No matter if you're a li hing veteran or newbie, I'm sure you'll find your own way to enjoy this island favorite.