Seeing a hala fruit for the first time may leave you wondering if you’re looking at a giant pine cone or a mutant pineapple.
Hala fruit, which is eaten exclusively by Pacific Islanders and visitors to the region, is made up of dozens of segments, called keys or cones. The innards of each key are pulpy, while the green outer edge is so fibrous it can be used as dental floss. Islanders chew on the raw fruit, boil it with grated coconut, or grind it into a paste. One taster likened the flavor of fresh hala juice to “a mixture of sugar cane and mango,” with the consistency of thick nectar.
The hala fruit grows from the Pandanus tectorius, a towering tree related to Southeast Asia’s fragrant pandan leaf. Traditional Hawaiian cultures use the hala tree for medicine, dye, and food. They apply and consume the roots to treat illnesses, and braid the leaves into a variety of household items. Though only female trees bear fruit, males produce their own useful substance: Early Hawaiian cultures powdered the trees’ fragrant, yellow pollen on their bodies and beds as an aphrodisiac.
Another useful application of hala fruit keys? Leis. Just don’t make one using the fresh fruit unless you plan to eat it soon after. The fruit ferments rapidly, emitting a stench that’s earned it the nickname “stink nut.”