Ark of Taste
Hua Moa Banana
Musa spp. (known in Hawaii as Maia popoulu Hua Moa, which translates to “chicken egg,” referring to its rounded shape. Marketed widely as the “Hawaiiyano”)
The Hua Moa is a delicious creamy-tasting banana with unusually large, picturesque fruit. It has a rich Polynesian background and was very important to the peoples of those islands.
After being brought to Florida, the Hua Moa became a staple in the kitchens of many Latinos in the Miami area until farm production declined due to diseases and storms. It can be sustainably grown both in Hawaii and in South Florida, but much needs to be done to help preserve and maintain this unique and delicious banana.
This unique banana variety, which is in season from June to December, is closely related to plantains. The fruits are unusually thick, resembling small, elongated melons up to 4 inches thick and sometimes reaching 10 inches long. Individual fruits can weigh over one pound. Another unique characteristic of this fruit is that unlike other true plantains, which must cooked before being eaten, Hua Moas can be left to fully ripen and can be consumed like a sweet dessert banana.
Originating in Polynesia, possibly in the Marquesas Island chain, the bananas were spread throughout the South Pacific islands by indigenous islanders using outrigger canoes. They became hugely popular in Tahiti and the Hawaiian islands. Then in 1960, the Miami-based fruit explorer William F. Whitman brought a Tahitian variety to Miami, fruited it, and distributed plants to other local rare fruit enthusiasts. These fruits thrived in the hot and humid South Florida climate, and after many years of being grown mainly as a curiosity, they were planted commercially by Cuban farmers in the Homestead, Florida area. These farmers started calling it the Hawaiiyano and it has been marketed this way for many years. It became so popular that many of the large Hispanic grocery store chains in Miami started carrying this fruit on their shelves.
Since its peak in the 1990s, production in Florida has fallen substantially, mainly due to pest and disease problems as well as from the damage inflicted by a number of hurricanes, which wreaked havoc with plantain and banana production in the Dade County area. This just one of the many banana and plantain varieties that are endangered in their native habitats of Hawaii and Polynesia, and is rarely seen in the markets even there. While the Hua Moa is known to be grown, on a small scale, in parts of Central and South America and is sometimes imported into the U.S., the Hua Moa is in danger of disappearing from South Florida entirely if conservation measures are not taken. At present, a few artisanal banana growers still have small patches in Dade and Broward counties, and Slow Food members in the area are taking action to ensure a market for those growers.