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From yuck to yummy, reactions from a panel of li hing mui treat tasting

Clockwise from top left: li hing mui (crack seed), li hing gummy bear, li hing tomato, pineapple with li hing powder, li hing cranberries, li hing Fuji apple and li hing sour apple candies.
Clockwise from top left: li hing mui (crack seed), li hing gummy bear, li hing tomato, pineapple with li hing powder, li hing cranberries, li hing Fuji apple and li hing sour apple candies. Catharine Hamm/Los Angeles Times

To assess how the (mostly) uninitated reacted to li hing mui, the pungent snack found all over Hawaii that’s the basis for new derivations, eight colleagues from the travel, food and photo departments convened for a tasting.

During a September trip to Hawaii, I had stocked up on several li hing-suffused treats to gauge their reactions. Each of the snacks had various potencies of the powder that is a blast of sweet and salty.

To ensure everyone had a say and a vote (except for me, because I’m an aficionado), a questionnaire listed the item, asked whether the respondent would or would not try it again and asked what the item tasted like.

Here are some of the reactions:

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Li hing mui, a.k.a. crack seed

Catharine Hamm/Los Angeles Times

The facial expressions on seven of the eight testers told the story, and it wasn’t a happy one. Only one person savored the flavor down to the seed; he said he liked the “exotic taste.” The rest gave up before they reached that stage of nirvana.

Perhaps I should have offered them the red version, which is not different in taste but looks better than the version pictured here. But then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference….

Would you try it again? Seven said no way. The lone taker said he would, brave soul.

Most telling comment: Tastes like “a ball of sugar and salt, like it has been left out,” one person said. “Crusty and old.”

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Li hing tomato

Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times

Some li hing tomato lovers, some not, but a more positive outcome.

Would you try it again? Seven said they would. The eighth said she would “if there was nothing else to eat.”

Tastes like: Two said dried mango, two said a giant raisin and one contrarian (the one who said she’d eat it if there was nothing else to eat) said, “It tastes nothing like a tomato.” If you don’t like tomatoes—and I don’t — that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Li hing gummy bears

Catharine Hamm/Los Angeles Times

The gummy bears played to a mixed crowd. Again, perhaps the presentation left a bit to be desired; the pictured bears look a little shopworn, thanks to a long ride in my suitcase.

Would you try them again? Five yes, three no.

Most telling comments: The gummy bears tasted like regular old gummy bears, one person said. A couple of others thought they had a “medicinal taste.” One person thought they tasted like cherry; another said they tasted like a sweeter version of gummy bears and would eat them because she likes candy.

Li hing mui powder on pineapple

Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times

The pineapple didn’t fare well in our testers’ minds or mouths. Could be it suffered by comparison because the pineapple I tasted with li hing powder was from Maui and exceptionally fresh. Here’s what they said:

Would you try it again? Five of the eight said no.

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Most telling comments: “It tastes like regular pineapple so why add anything to it?” one person said, then demanded to know how much sugar and how many calories it contained.

Another said it tasted like “almost nothing,” noting that the flavor “isn’t that strong,” and a third said, “It doesn’t do much for the pineapple.”

But one pro pineapple with li hing fan said it “makes the pineapple less sour.” Which is the point.

Lin hing mui sour apple candies

Catharine Hamm/Los Angeles Times

The li hing haters toned it down for this tasting.

Would you try them again? Seven people said yes, although one qualified that with “only on Halloween.” Why did they soften? Because, a couple of people said, they like sour apple candy.

Most telling comments: One person said she would try them again because “why not?” Clearly the soul of a daredevil.

Li hing Fuji apple rings

Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times

The panel was split on this one. Some liked the texture, but others described them as slightly rubbery.

Would you try them again? Four to four.

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Most telling comments: “I’d rather eat an apple,” a no voter said. Another naysayer said it tasted like “an old, packaged treat.” A pro voter could hardly contain his enthusiasm: “It’s not bad,” he wrote.

Li hing cranberries

Catharine Hamm/Los Angeles Times

By the seventh product, some panelists and their taste buds were worn out.

Would you try them again? Four said yes, two said no and two didn’t answer.

Most telling comments: “Tastes like cheap cranberries,” said one panelist, whose taste buds may have been fatigued but whose willingness to disparage was not.

But another said she detected a powdered chile flavor, although not spicy. “I would try it again because the combination was good.”

As was the combination of panelists. With thanks to Marilyn Ruiz, Anne Harnagel, Christopher Reynolds, Jan Molen, Denise Florez, Jenn Harris, Ricardo DeAratanha and Calvin Alagot.

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