The guide held out a pretty little red berry and explained that it had the ability to transform my sense of taste from sour to sweet. I felt like Alice as she listened to the caterpillar in Wonderland – a little uncertain, a little suspicious. I was handed a slice of lemon to taste first and decided I was game. “Definitely sour,” I confirmed with a pucker.
I popped the magic fruit, called a miracle berry, into my mouth, chewed off the pulpy red coating and bit into the lemon again. This time a rush of lemon candy filled my senses and I was transported back to the candy jar in my grandmother’s living room. I bit into the lemon one more time, and sure enough, the normally tart little wedge of citrus was still cloyingly sweet.
We were on an unusual farm tour on the Big Island of Hawaii, and on our way to the fruit tasting at a rise overlooking the ocean, we walked past small fields of taro, turmeric, three kinds of ginger, four kinds of avocados, mangoes, papaya, asparagus and dragon fruit growing in the fertile volcanic Big Island soil. The fruit platter held other exotic tropical delights, and we wondered which otherworldly fruit our guides would hand us next – the one with the fleshy fat green spikes, the fluorescent raspberry pink one or the gooey yellow one with seeds that looked like bb gun pellets.
“Try this,” our tropical plant expert guide from Kohala Grown Farm Tours suggested, handing us the gooey yellow one and a spoon – a welcome courtesy so we didn’t have to slurp. It was a liliko’i – the tart member of the passion fruit family that is used to flavor all kinds of island treats, like ice cream, fancy cocktails and jam. It was sweet and zingy and not at all tart, like it was about five minutes later when we tasted it again.
Once the effects of the miracle berry wore off, we sampled the other fruit so we could experience their true taste, like the starfruit that looked just like its name and was crunchy and crisp. Next up was a jackfruit. “Juicy fruit gum,” I said with recognition when I tasted it, and it’s true, it was thought to have inspired the flavor for the popular chewing gum. Then dragon fruit, white pineapple, papaya and an array of other fruits plucked fresh from the neighborhood.
The Big Island’s startling variety of terrain – from tropical rain forests and volcanic deserts to high altitude peaks dusted in snow – contains all but two of the world’s micro-climates. Just about anything can be grown and everything flourishes. This particular Farm Tour was showing us around the northernmost region on the island that has become a center of organic farming.
Our fruit tasting was just the first stop of our Kohala Grown Big Island farm tour. Next up — coffee, chocolate and coconut.