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Something new to do on Maui: Visit the sunflower field that gives rise to beauty products and cooking oil

Something new to do on Maui: Visit the sunflower field that gives rise to beauty products and cooking oil
Sunflowers now grow on 200 acres on Maui between Kahului and Maalaea where sugar cane once was planted. (Pacific Biodiesel)

A biofuels company is making big waves with sunflowers on Maui. On 200 acres south of Kahului, where sugar cane was once grown, Pacific Biodiesel is now raising giant yellow flowers whose seeds are pressed into a pure oil. .

That oil powers vehicles but also is used in soothing spa treatments and dishes at high-end restaurants.

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Kelly King holds sunflowers while her husband, Bob, founder of Pacific Biodiesel, holds a jar of pure sunflower oil on their West Maui farm.
Kelly King holds sunflowers while her husband, Bob, founder of Pacific Biodiesel, holds a jar of pure sunflower oil on their West Maui farm. (Pacific Biodiesel)

“The spas are using it mainly for massage oils. They love it,” company founder Bob King said. “Now the chefs have started … tasting it and they said, ‘We’ve never had sunflower oil that tastes like this. It’s different. It’s special. It’s unique.’ ”

King said his product tastes and smells different because it hasn’t gone through the bleaching, deodorizing and refining processes that competitors use. He has found a better way to press the oil of the sunflower seeds and still keep the price competitive.

The environmentally sensitive Andaz Maui in Wailea is fully on board with Pacific Biodiesel. The LEED Silver Certificate resort has begun using sunflower oil in all treatments at its Awili Spa.

Executive chef Isaac Bancaco of Kaana Kitchen prepares a seafood-and-greens salad using oil pressed from sunflowers grown just a few miles from his Wailea restaurant.
Executive chef Isaac Bancaco of Kaana Kitchen prepares a seafood-and-greens salad using oil pressed from sunflowers grown just a few miles from his Wailea restaurant. (Andaz Maui)

It has also been embraced by Isaac Bancaco, executive chef at the hotel’s Kaana Kitchen.

Bancaco has already used the oil in a seafood-and-greens salad and plans to incorporate it into further dishes in the coming weeks.

Roughly a half-dozen executive chefs on the island have placed orders for Pacific Biodiesel’s oil, including Tylun Pang of Ko at Fairmont Kea Lani and Jeff Scheer of the Mill House at Maui Tropical Plantation.

Oil pressed from sunflower seeds is used in various treatments at Awili Spa in Wailea.
Oil pressed from sunflower seeds is used in various treatments at Awili Spa in Wailea. (Andaz Maui)

King said that oil used for cooking will be recycled and turned into fuel, completing the cycle for what the company calls its “blooms of sustainability.”

You can visit the sunflower field as part the Maui Made Fresh tour offered by Travel Plaza Transportation. The daily tour, which includes lunch, and stops at a pineapple farm and the Surfing Goat Dairy, costs $206 for adults and $165 for children.

Using oils extracted from sunflowers as well as kukui and macadamia nuts, Maiden Hawaii Naturals produces a line of skin care products.
Using oils extracted from sunflowers as well as kukui and macadamia nuts, Maiden Hawaii Naturals produces a line of skin care products. (Kuleana)

Maiden Hawaii Naturals, a Pacific Biodiesel subsidiary, produces the Kuleana line of beauty oils and facial cleansers that include oils from kukui nuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds and other locally-grown plants.

Kuleana products are sold at the Awili Spa and online.

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