To Waianae resident Vince Dodge, the kiawe is the most under-estimated, under-utilized tree on the planet.
"People are familiar with Kiawe. They've lived with it all their lives," he said. "They know it as thorns, maybe as animal food when they were younger, right? And great barbecue and imu wood. But food? The uncles and aunties are like, 'What? Boy, what you making?'"
But Dodge makes a lot of things with the flour he gets from kiawe.
The process is simple but labor intensive. He gathers pounds of pods that fall from the trees, then sorts and washes and dries the sweet ones. The beans from the pods are then ground into a fine sweet flour that he bakes into energy bars and bites called "Waianae Gold."
He also packages and sells the flour.
"It also tastes good straight. You can eat it straight," he said.
Dodge says kiawe flour contains simple sugars and fiber, so it's good for diabetics and people allergic to gluten. He uses it in pastries, pancakes, breads and cookies.
"If you get about 30 percent kiawe flour in your mix, then you actually have a food that digests slower," he said.
Dodge has studied the health benefits of kiawe for 11 years. He's gone to Argentina, where kiawe is plentiful, and Arizona where the tree's cousin — the mesquite grows — to learn how people there turn the beans into edible products.
He's willing to share his knowledge with anyone who wants to learn.
"Our vision is not some big factory in Waianae," he said. "Our vision is multiple little endeavors all over the state, people producing flour for themselves, their families, their church, their community and selling their surplus."
Dodge's kiawe flour is sold at Down to Earth, Kokua Market, Waianae Store and a few other select outlets.