Hawaiian Hot Sauce in Lava Land
It’s may be impossible to find anything hotter than the lava pouring out of Kīlauea, but Wild Puna Farm, a small organic farm located in the District of Puna, gets pretty close with its Hawaiian Hot Pepper Sauce.
This bottled inferno of goodness is grown organically and produced on-site.
“I started Wild Puna Farm about two years ago,” said owner Peg George. “When I bought the five acres, it was jungle. It had mostly strawberry guava and dead ʻōhiʻa on the property, so the first phase was clearing and planting. Everything was growing wild, including coffee, oranges and lilikoi. That’s how it got the name, Wild Puna Farm. I’m just in love with it.”
George grew up in Texas and lived in Southwest Colorado for several years before moving to the Big Island, so she is no stranger to peppers and hot foods.
She tells the story of how she received her first Hawaiian Pepper plant.
For those who enjoy peppers that pack a spicy punch, Hawaiian chili peppers have a flavor similar to a Tabasco pepper. These small chilies are about an inch long and grow on large bushy plants reaching up to four feet in height.
“One of the main reasons I’m here is a woman named KiKi,” said George. “She brought me to Puna several years ago and when she passed away about a year later, her best friend gave me this one plant that belonged to her. It was a Hawaiian pepper plant. I started babying it in a pot, then I finally moved it into my garden. It just went crazy and I had to figure out what I was going to do with all these beautiful peppers. I always had pepper sauce at home, so I thought, you know what? I’m going to make pepper sauce, and I did. I got a label and it’s just delicious. I love it!”
While the tiny peppers rank high on the heat scale, the capsaicin in the peppers is located mainly in the interior seeds and can be removed for those wanting a milder heat.
To make her delicious Hawaiian Hot Pepper Sauce, George keeps it simple. She washes the freshly picked peppers and adds white distilled vinegar and Hawaiian sea salt.
“I love it on cooked greens like spinach, kale and collards greens,” she said. “That comes from my southern roots. You can put it on anything—anything you want to add a little heat to.”
Hawaiian chili peppers are known locally as nioi or nioi pepa. The pepper plants are prolific, producing an average of 100 peppers each. The peppers are believed by some to have arrived in Hawaiʻi at the end of the 18th century, most likely carried by migrating birds. Today, this spicy delight is found at local farmer’s markets throughout the island.
Wild Puna Farm’s Hawaiian Hot Pepper Sauce can be found at the Hilo Farmer’s Market every Saturday along with other products from the farm. George encourages others to grown their own food and talks about the importance of knowing where food comes from.
“There are so many people who forget they can grow their own food very easily, even on the smallest piece of property” said George. “We need to start thinking about what we are eating and where our food comes from. We need to support local farmers and local foods, especially on an island.”
Supporting local business, especially in the lava affected areas of Puna, is more important than ever.