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Think pineapple, think Hawaii. It’s only natural. After all, the islands were a major player in the pineapple industry for many decades in the 1900s. These days, even though other parts of the world have assumed dominance of the market, the oval-shaped fruit with the spiky crown still conjures up images of hula girls and tropical drinks.
On the Valley Isle, Maui Gold Pineapple Co. is keeping the fruit front and center with travelers and locals alike. Its tours — along with visitor programs at island beverage-makers who use Maui Gold in their products — are helping to perpetuate the world’s love affair with Hawaii’s famous crop.
Maui Gold’s history began with the 1912 launch of Maui Pineapple Co. At its peak, it harvested 250,000 tons of the fruit each year. By the end of 2009, however, global competition had reduced its annual yield dramatically. On the brink of closure, the operation was rescued in 2010 by a group of company executives who created what is now known as Maui Gold Pineapple Co. Today, it’s the only place in Hawaii where clients can tour a working pineapple plantation.
“The Maui Gold pineapple was grown specifically to be the freshest-tasting pineapple in the world due to its low acidity and extra sweet flavor,” said company spokesperson Mary Britton. “Our tour shares the important history and culture of an industry and a company that have been around for more than a century.”
Touring the PlantationTo get a better sense of the history (and a taste of the gold), I joined a Maui Gold tour group in Haliimaile, a tiny town on the slopes of Haleakala volcano at 1,000 feet of elevation. From there, our knowledgeable guide, Brett, escorted us on a short van ride up to the 1,500-acre pineapple plantation. As we gazed at row upon row of pineapples, we learned how the area’s warm sunny days, cool nights and rich volcanic soil are ideal for growing the fruit.
We watched employees planting the fields, which is arduous work. Just seven people do all the planting for the company. In another part of the field, workers picked pineapples and loaded them into a harvester. Brett told us that timing is everything. While it takes 18 months for a pineapple to grow, there’s only a two- to three-day window during which it’s perfect for picking. Maui Gold has refined the process so that very little goes to waste.
After selecting several pineapples, Brett whipped out a machete and artfully peeled and sliced them into chunks for us to taste. We compared the flavors of a less ripe, more acidic pineapple to another that was riper and sweeter. Our group favored the option with 10 percent acid and 90 percent sugar, which featured surprising overtones of coconut.
Next, we toured the plant, which buzzed with noise and activity.
Processing the fruit is extremely labor-intensive, right down to the employees who put a Maui Gold tag on each pineapple by hand. As the tour wrapped up, Brett gifted each participant with their very own pineapple.
Sharing the WealthMaui Gold sells some of its pineapples to local beverage-makers. For instance, the adjacent Haliimaile Distillery uses them in its Pau Maui Vodka. During a 45-minute tour, clients can see the factory and sample the heady results. Those who book the pineapple and distillery tours together receive a retail discount at the latter.
In Kihei, Maui Brewing Co. infuses its Mana Wheat beer with Maui Gold pineapples. Clients can sip the crisp and slightly fruity ale during daily tours. The 45-minute experience includes a look at the brewhouse, cellar and packaging line, followed by tastings of its flagship beers.
MauiWine also calls on Maui Gold for some of its products, including Maui Blanc, Maui Splash and Hula O Maui. During a tour, guests learn about the longtime history of the winery, see its production areas and enjoy free tastings.
But it all starts back in the pineapple fields, home of the sweet Maui Gold.
“We hope our guests leave with a better understanding and appreciation of how the pineapple historically shaped Maui and the role it currently plays today,” Britton said.
Maui Brewing Co.www.mauibrewingco.com
Maui Pineapple Tourswww.mauipineappletour.com