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Crack seed is a family of Hawaiian snacks that originated in China. Much of Hawaiian food has been heavily influenced by Asian cuisine and flavors, and the taste of these snacks is much closer to those of China than anything made in the United States. Many Hawaiians greatly enjoy crack seed and shopping at stores that sell and assortment of varieties, while mainlanders are sometimes puzzled by the array of choices at such a shop.
The term “crack seed” references the way the snacks are prepared. They traditionally made by preserving fruit intact with its seed, and cracking the fruit to expose the seed. Not all such snacks include the seed today, but the name has stuck. Other people use the Chinese terms li hing mui or see mui to refer to this food, and Hawaiians sometimes refer to “li hing” as a specific flavor.
These snacks originated in the very practical need to preserve fruit so that it could be used year round. The Chinese were fond of preserving fruits like plums in salt, so that they could be carried on long journeys, and they acquired a taste for heavily salted, slightly sweet preserved foods that they brought with them to Hawaii. Along the way, the flavors were expanded, and today it's possible to find sweet crack seed, chocolate covered snacks, and snacks infused with licorice, lemon, and other flavors.
People who have not been raised eating snacks of Asian origin may struggle to appreciate crack seed. The fruit in the traditional snacks is withered and leathery, unlike the plump, colorful dried fruits preserved with sulfides on the mainland. It may also be hard, intensely salty or strongly sour, and typically has a very strong taste that may be unexpected to people who are not familiar with it.
Some stores sell a mixture of flavors, with some tailored towards people with more sensitive taste buds. Tourist shops, for example, tend to carry more conventional dried fruit, rather than stocking things like salt-preserved plums. For people with adventurous taste buds, a visit to a traditional crack seed store can be quite an experience. Many of the same foods sold there can also be found in Chinese groceries all over the world, from salt preserved plums to sweet dried lychees.
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