Perched on the food bar today is a stalk of Hua Moa, a rare banana-plantain cross brought to South Florida from the Pacific Islands in 1960 by William F. Whitman Jr., a self-taught horticulturist who became renowned for collecting rare tropical fruits from around the world and popularizing them in the United States. The sample is courtesy of Slow Food Miami’s Donna Reno and Noel Ramos, who hooked us up with Larry Siegel, a Brooklyn-born fruit tree grower in Davie, FL.
“I lived in Brazil for a while and liked exotic fruits,” he explains. “I started with lychee, cherimoyas, longans, avocados… They took a big hit during hurricanes Irene and Wilma. Coconut, papaya, and bananas always hang on!”
Siegel’s been at it since 1996, and his 35 acres are divided into rows that intermix the different tree varieties, alternating coconut, then banana, then coconut, etc. It’s a technique that benefits both, promoting good growth and taste.
Hua Moa was originally from southeast Asia but was carried to the South Pacific in canoes and rafts to the Marquesas Islands and then on to Hawaii. It’s now cultivated in South Dade by a handful of small growers like Siegel. It is the only place in the continental United States where they are found. Slow Food Miami is co-nominating the Hua Moa with Slow Food Hawaii for Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, a catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. Read more about the Hua Moa below, and the Ark of Taste here.
* This unusual plantain is a culinary favorite in Cuban, Caribbean and Central and South American communities
* Its name comes from the Polynesian word for “Chicken Egg” as the fruit is egg-shaped; it’s also called Hawaiiano
* The fruit can be eaten fresh or cooked, when the skin is either green (under ripe) or dark brown (ripe)
* Hua Moa has poor cold tolerance, and requires intensive care; it’s recommended only for planting with disease-free material in warm, protected sites free of Panama disease
* Hua Moa grows 10 to 12 ft. and is produced commercially on the east coast of Florida; the elongated melon-shaped fruits are 6 to 11 inches long and 3 inches or more in diameter
* The fruit is sour in taste, sometimes sweet, typically eaten baked with cinnamon and sugar, smashed and fried green (tostones,) or in meat soup (Colombian)
Information from Slow Food Hawaii’s Ken Love on Hawaiian bananas:
* Hawaiian bananas are all endangered and all more susceptible to disease than other bananas
* Most are critically endangered in Hawaii with many varieties having fewer than 600 stands left in the US
* A dozen or more types of bananas have been lost to disease and various critters. Its essential that we protect what’s left regardless of where it is grown now