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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 30, 2001

Pineapple industry puts zest into taste tests

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaiian pineapple enthusiasts held their first annual festival here yesterday to educate folks about the virtues of Hawai'i's signature fruit-served-fresh.

Robert Moon of Waikiki samples pineapple slices as Cherrylin Pascua from Del Monte watches during the festival at McCoy Pavilion.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Chefs whipped up dishes like Pineapple and Green Tea Granita, a tasty mix of lemon verbena and pineapple relish with a pineapple swizzle stick.

Judy Nakamura of Kahului, Hawai'i sales manager for Maui Pineapple, topped tortilla chips with spicy Maui Fresh Tropical Fruit and Pineapple Salsa, and Honolulu career women Lori Parham and Kristie Okazaki said they'd love to serve it.

"Sweet and tangy at the same time," said Parham. "Something different," said Okazaki.

That's a far cry from the canned yellow wagon wheels Mom used to plaster all over the Easter ham, or somehow slip under one of those upside-down cakes.

At least 1,000 people showed up at McCoy Pavilion to taste the wares and look at pineapple magnets, soap, pins, badges, sculptures, candies, quilts, potholders, creamers, sugar bowls, salt and pepper shakers and toothpick holders, as well as Shannon Tibayan's collection of rare, old pineapple-can labels worth hundreds of dollars.

Hawai'i, overthrown as king of canned pineapple by places like Africa, Thailand, Central and South America and the Philippines, is counting on new, sweeter hybrid plants and the Hawai'i name to command the premium market, according to Jerry Vriesenga, president of Dole Food Company of Hawai'i and president of the Pineapple Growers Association of Hawai'i.

"Hawai'i pineapple in general is way down from the glory days of canned pineapple, but the fresh market has taken an upward turn with new low-acid varieties," Vriesenga said.

While there are several new varieties, and more being developed, most are marketed simply with reference to the gold color of the first hybrids, as Del Monte Gold, Dole Tropical Gold, and Maui Pineapple Hawaiian Gold.

The closing of some fields on Neighbor Islands has reduced planting to under 25,000 acres statewide, but O'ahu has held its own and even is expanding into some former sugar cane fields, he said.

Although some traditionalists say it isn't pineapple unless it's tart, the pineapple that made you pucker is old hat, Vriesenga said, and the lower acidity of the new varieties "gives you the ability to eat more pineapple."

Acidity was one of the qualities that kept bacteria and mold at bay when most pineapple was canned here, but modern fast freight and chilling techniques make it possible to get the sweeter product to market in days without risk of spoiling, he said.

The state ships about 350,000 tons of the crop a year, more than 100,000 tons of it fresh.

Growers are hoping promotion will give the fruit a boost it hasn't seen since the Hollywood Diet recommended "about a pineapple a day," said Vriesenga, who holds a doctorate in genetics and went to work for Dole in 1972 as a plant breeder.

About 2,500 people are employed in the pineapple industry, about half in the field and another half in the canning operations at Maui Pineapple Company's sole surviving cannery in the state, he said.