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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.