Entrance to Crack Seed Center
The old Hawaiian lady smiled wistfully as Mr. Young tonged her
order of wet li hing mango out of a massive jar. When he put them
on the scale, the scarlet slices glistened in the afternoon light.
“Every time I come here,” the lady said in local pidgin, “it’s
like I goin’ back to old-time Hawaii.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by customers a thousand times a day in
the old store. But, if a visit to this Oahu institution known
simply as the Crack Seed Store is a dose of nostalgia for locals,
for visitors it’s a charming glimpse of the real Hawaii.
Crack seed fruit preserved in a concoction of sugar, salt,
licorice, star anise and li hing, a tart red powder made from the
pits of plums was brought to Hawaii by Chinese immigrants more than
100 years ago. Ancient Chinese warriors are said to have carried
crack seed under the saddle of their horses. But despite its
immigrant past, the crack seed store is thoroughly Hawaiian.
Jars of different flavored crack
seed line the shelves.
Pre-packaged crack seed can be found in almost any supermarket on
Oahu, but if clients are eager for an authentic crack seed
experience, encourage them to visit Mr. Young’s pleasantly grubby
shop in the old neighborhood of Kaimuki. Inside, hundreds of great
apothecary jars line the shelves, each filled with a different
variety of crack seed: rock salt plum, candied ginger, li hing
mango, sweet sour lemon. The atmosphere is like an old-fashioned
candy store, a place where grandparents and children both feel at
When your clients are ready to order, Mr. Young shuffles out
from behind his battered counter and scoops the sticky morsels into
little plastic bags. The sheer number of options can be daunting,
and even old hands often walk out with four or five varieties.
A more modern version of the crack seed store can be found among
the luxury outlets at Honolulu’s Ala Moana Shopping Center. The
Crack Seed Center is a bright, clean shop with an enormous
selection of traditional fruits, crackers and dried seafood. Its
central location makes it tremendously popular with locals, and a
squadron of young women in red smocks are quick to offer their