Loving that lilikoi

Lilikoi – savor it: pronouncing slowly, “lih – lih – koy” – a word that rolls as pleasingly tangy off the tongue as this yellow passion fruit tastes. It’s the fruit-of-the-day (week?) in our garden and coming in abundance all over Kauai at this time.

The optimum time to gather these fruits is when they fall off the vine by themselves. Let them rest and ripen at room temperature for several days as you keep harvesting. They become sweetest when they are the ugliest, wrinkled and beginning to soften, but you don’t have to wait until then to enjoy tasting.

When I first discovered these fruits at the County Sunshine Market, I was taken back to a remembered taste of passion fruit in the wild, plucked near a mountain lake in what is now Pwin U Lwin in Myanmar and was then Maymyo, Burma, British India. As I scooped out the seeds and relished the refreshing, tart-sweet inner pulp and juice, I had one of those “ahh” moments; my tastebuds got a memory jolt of some four decades.

It was the late Gladys Tashiro, long-time ‘Ohana department and food editor of this newspaper, who told me back in the 1980s how to process the fruit for juice.

“Wait until you have maybe 20 to 30 ready,” she advised. “Wash them. Cut them in half – make sure the knife is sharp,” she cautioned. “Scoop the insides of about 10 at a time into your blender, then pulse them for a second maybe four or five times – not too long. You want to loosen the pulp from the seeds, not chop them.

“Next,” said Ms. Gladys with her sweet Buddha smile, “pour all into a strainer over a large bowl. Stir until every drop of juice has been strained.”

Ms. Gladys suggested bagging and freezing the hundreds of seeds (to prevent a lilikoi invasion) until trash removal day.

My personal lilikoi lesson ended that day with how to finish all processing, then measure and pour the bright orange juice into clean jars and chill until ready to blend into lilikoi-ade (one to about six of parts of water with a minimum of sugar added, to taste) or into other recipes. “Leave half at the top, if you’re freezing it,” cautioned Ms. Gladys.

Now, whenever I have my finger ready to hit the “chop” button of my blender at lilikoi time, I remember kind Gladys, who became a friend on staff, and wish her spirit well.

I was thrilled to find a vine that volunteered itself some years back. It may have been seeded by a hiker on the neighboring trail, or borne by a bird – that remains a mystery. But suddenly, here appeared the vine, draping our back fence and dangling from the big, bordering trees. I was in lilikoi heaven. When my publisher friend Fernando (who helped put out the Kokee Museum’s valuable, forest plant/flower guide, Na Pua o Kokee) came on one of his visits from Southern California, he enjoyed the juice and pie I served him. Later he wrote that he’d found Kauai’s “Aunty Lilikoi” products online and had become a mail-order customer. He wanted to grow some different varieties of lilikoi in his garden, too.

E-mailing back and forth answering Fernando’s questions about our lilikoi, I learned from my research that this passion fruit is native to South America and supplies vitamins C and A in abundance. It is said to improve vision and lower cholesterol. Also, one serving (one lilikoi) will supposedly supply twice the potassium of a banana. Impressive.

You can imagine how I had to count to 10 the following season when I found that my husband had accidentally hacked off the vine’s main stem during pruning. I hoped that it would regenerate, but no luck with that.

We lived lilikoi-less until about two years ago when my hula sister Savitri brought me a 10-inch start rooting in water. When planted in a new place and given its own trellis fence, Vine II went crazy. Today, I regularly have to deter it from overgrowing my clothesline and natural gas tank, strangling some red ti plants, and continually sneaking toward my neighbor’s property. But I forgive my tropical beauty, because of its favorable qualities (just as I forgave my husband). And Ms. Savitri is now in my regular prayers along with Ms. Gladys.

Recently, when Hurricanes Iselle and Julio were threatening, beyond basic needs and safety, one of my concerns at home was for Vine II, picturing it and its huge, yellow-globed fruits being ripped out along with its trellis and hurled away by the winds. Glad to say our Kauai community was spared destruction; and Vine II.

If this column inspires you to make some lilikoi juice, and possibly pie, bars, butter, or syrup, you can find numerous recipes and posts on the web. (You can also find a famous lilikoi pie that I know of on island between Lihue and Kokee.) You may write/e-mail TGI if you really want the “Dawn’s Fave E-Z Lilikoi Pie” recipe. I will happily supply on demand. If the lilikoi keep coming, you are welcome to some of those, too.


Dawn Fraser Kawahara has been a Kauai writer and promoter for 30 years. She is an award-winning poet, the creator and original archivist of the Garden Island Arts Council’s long-running annual “Poetry Fests,” a former Poet-in-the-Schools (Kauai), and continues to be active in promoting the arts. A former writer and department editor for The Garden Island, she launched and continues to run her TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations–Kauai as part of DAWN Enterprises.

  1. Dawn June 6, 2021 1:40 pm Reply


    Thanx muchly for sharing!😃

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