MOUNTAIN VIEW, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A small business on Hawaii Island hopes to make a big splash with the nation's only certified organic imu-cooked products.
The federal certification opens the door to commercial development of the authentic cultural cooking style for the first time.
"There was a need for our authentic products because it was not out there," said Terri Napeahi, founder of Papa Mu in Mountain View. "My mission was to be able to have products created by Native Hawaiians and give them the opportunity of authenticating a culture in the market."
Papa Mu specializes in traditional Hawaiian imu-prepared kalua pig, turkey and chicken. Several times each week, Napeahi cooks using the ancient Hawaiian underground method.
"The burning process, the stones, the layers of what Hawaiians call halii or the blanket covering, which is burlap, the ti leaves, the banana leaves and the banana stumps. All of that has participation in the flavor that cannot be duplicated," Napeahi said. "It's being cooked at over 900 degrees -- that cannot be done in the oven. It's steaming, it's not baking and that's the difference."
Napeahi is required to follow strict federal regulations, most importantly maintaining a pathogen-free environment, in addition to surface testing and temperature checks.
Local chefs say the end result is worth it.
"If you're a connoisseur of good kalua pig, you'll definitely be able to taste it immediately," said Alan Okuda, a chef who teaches at Hawaii Community College's Culinary Arts Program. "Majority of the time when you buy kalua pig from the store you can tell that it's been cooked in an oven, it's been cooked with liquid smoke."
Okuda says Napeahi's business model is teaching culinary students the importance of food sustainability.
"It shows our students what can be done locally and by using sustainable products available right here on the island," he said. "You don't have to go to the mainland, you don't have to go to Oahu. You can have it right here on the Big Island of Hawaii -- because we're considered the bread basket of the state of Hawaii with the amount of fruits and produce that we naturally grow."
Papa Mu is committed to using local, organically-grown products from farmers throughout the Puna district.
"What this does is it empowers our community and the people of our community to grow our own food," said farmer Dana Keawe. "One out of three families in this district don't have enough food. We ship in about 80 to 90 percent of our produce and our products, so this was a wake-up call for me personally to become more sustainable."
Keawe says Papa Mu makes that possible.
"We're so excited because there's so many avenues to self-sufficiency and self-sustainability. Each of us have our part -- the mahi'ai, the farmers have their part and then the cultural practitioners have their part," Keawe said. "Papa Mu creates a liaison for all of us really to come together."