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Li Hing Everything


Clockwise from bottom left: Pineapple, Fuji Apple, Korean Shingo Pear, Papaya
and Cantaloupe, with Li Hing Powder at the center of this fruity universe

Time to bust out the napkins, as some of the following images are bound to induce heavy salivation and possible drooling.

Seriously, for those of us who are fimiliar with it, immediately upon looking at that red color psychologically places that salty-sweet-tart blast on the tongue as if  we were actually nibbling and sucking on a Li Hing Mui, Li Hing-flavored Pickled Mango and much more as you’ll soon see.

Li Hing Mui, a Chinese preserved plum remains more popular than ever in Hawaii today as a candy of sorts, where like all the other ethnic specialties in the islands, were first introduced, then homogenized by immigrated laborers from that country during the plantation era.


Photo sourced from the Sunday Manoa album cover

The Yick Lung brand of Li Hing Mui, also sometimes called “crack seed” (which is a wetter, literally cracked Li Hing Mui seed) and other related preserved fruits and sweets under that brand dominated endcaps at the checkout stand at the neighborhood Long’s Drugs and Star Market (the latter now only a memory) during the 70’s and early 80’s when I grew up here in Hawaii (dating myself). You can’t mistake that classic yellow label with the rounded top. Remember that?!!!

While Yick Lung has since pulled out of this particular market, today you can find Li Hing flavored snacks under a number of new labels at grocery stores and other retailers all around the islands. Most of which maintaining the quality I remember Yick Lung offered, with the key exception being that Yick Lung was manufactured right here in Honolulu (made in Hawaii) at their former facility on Dillingham Boulevard (gotta’ miss that). This while the brands available today are mostly repackaged from sources in foreign countries.

According to the Wikipedia article on Li Hing Mui, the name translates in Chinese to “traveling plum”, with Li Hing meaning “traveling” and Mui meaning “plum”. I’ll assume being its preserved makes it easily portable, therefore the adjective “traveling”.

Now with the widespread availability of Li Hing Powder, we’re seeing more and more culinary uses for it. Local snack companies offer the everything from Li Hing Arare (Japanese rice crackers), Li Hing lollipops, Li Hing Gummy Bears and Gummy Worms, to an ever-growing variety of Li Hing dried fruits, such as these Fuji Apples…

Read the complete review of Li Hing Fuji Apples in the original write-up here.

Probably the most bizarre manufactured product I’ve seen yet is this Li Hing Plum Candy…

Read the complete Tasty Island review of Li Hing Plum Candy in the original write-up here.

When it comes to brands of Li Hing Powder (there’s a number of them out there now), I found the best tasting one is made by Jade…

Notice the flavoring is  prune (some others use licorice), while the sweetener is good ‘ole sugar (and dextrose monohydrate). Many other brands I’ve seen in the stores use Aspartame, a.k.a. Equal or NutraSweet. I’ve tried those Aspartame-sweetened ones, and they indeed have that slight “cough medicine” like taste in comparison to this one with regular sugar. You can definitely tell the difference.The Jade brand is also more reddish in color, while some other brands look more brown. Personally I prefer my Li Hing look red as it psychologically appears sweeter and candy-like.

Whether it has Aspartame or any other ingredients that seem questionable, the subject on whether Li Hing has harmful health effects has been addressed. Such as whether it has cancer risks in this Honolulu Advertiser article, and the 411 on PHENYLKETONURICS in this Midweek article.

The bottom line in both articles suggesting, like any other food high in sodium and/or sugar, in moderation there shouldn’t be a concern consuming Li Hing treats. Of course, make sure to brush your teeth afterwards.

It seems foods that are highly acidic are the most complimentary to the unique and intense salty-sweet-tart flavor profile of Li Hing powder.

As for the fresh fruits shown in the first photo above, that tan colored fruit at the 2 o’clock position is a Korean Shingo Pear, which isn’t really acidic, but thought I’d give it a try with Li Hing anyway.  Hear it is sliced in thin wedges and ready for a good sprinkling of Li Hing Powder….

Simply sprinkle the Li Hing Powder on all sides…

Repeat for whatever other fruits you wanna’ “Li Hinginize” lol. Then pop them in a ZipLoc bag and place in freezer until frozen just before the point of being ice hard.

Out they come for an ice cold, “hyper-tasty” snack!….

The top row on that plate is frozen Li Hing Pineapple, the second row frozen Li Hing Fuji Apple and the bottom row frozen Li Hing Korean Singo Pear. I didn’t apply Li Hing Powder to the Papaya or Cantaloupe as they weren’t ripe yet. I’ll add it in here later.

Now when I say “hyper-tasty”, I reallly mean that, as Li Hing is a potent and bold flavoring ingredient. There’s no mistaking when you taste it.

As I said earlier, Li Hing seems to be most complimentary with foods that are high in acidity. With that, between the Li Hing coated frozen Pear, Apple and Pineapple, my favorite is the highly acidic Pineapple. Good stuff. Its frozen state makes all the difference. I didn’t like any of them nearly as much at just chilled temperature. With the exception of Li Hing Mui Lemon, FROZEN is the way to go with fresh fruits done Li Hing style.

Then you have one of the most popular uses in Hawaii for Li Hing, whether it’s the powder or the plum seed, which is in Pickled Mango!…

OK, I have to admit, I just salivated after looking at that one. lol

Probably the most innovative use of Li Hing powder I’ve seen and tasted yet is Hawaii celebrity Chef Alan Wong’s Blanched Hamakua Springs Tomato and Japanese Cucumbers served with a Li Hing Vinaigrette and micro Thai Basil garnish…

That’s an absolutely gorgeous presentation. Best of all, that Li Hing Vinaigrette dressing along with the (acidic) tomato and cucumbers tastes AMAZING! So amazing that I was inspired to replicate the dish at home, which I did here…

I should have cut the Japanese Cucumbers thinner so there’s more to fan out and cover the seeds. That’s OK, still looks pretty good. I couldn’t find the micro Thai Basil in the supermarket, so opted instead for Shiso Leaves for the garnish, which Chef Wong also uses in his presentations.

The tomato’s skin is peeled for this dish, which you do by cutting an X at the bottom then place the tomato in boiling water and blanch for about 30 seconds. Then remove it and drop in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. The X cut on the bottom enables you to start the peel, making it much easier to pull the skin off in large sections. Then you cut the peeled tomato horizontally into sections about 3/8″ thick. The idea here is to have tomato “steaks” if you will.

Here’s the recipe for the Li Hing Vinaigrette, which I found on this website (mahalo!)….

Li Hing Mui Vinaigrette

  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 tablespoons Ume paste (Kinjirushi Neri Ume Shiso brand)*
  • 2 tablespoons Li Hing Mui Powder**
  • 1/4 cup Mitsukan rice vinegar
  • 1 cup salad oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Place all the ingredients except the oil and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.  With hand-held immersion blender on medium speed, slowly add the oil in a steady stream to create an emulsion. Continue until all oil is incorporated. Finish with lemon juice. Chill until ready to use.

To make the dish, blanch and peel the tomato as directed above. Slice Japanese cucumbers thinly and fan out over a plate that’s coated evenly in the center with Li Hing Vinaigrette. Top with peeled and sliced tomato assembled as a whole and finish with garnish. Enjoy.

The combination of the “meaty” somewhat acidic tomato slices along with the crispy cucumber slices eaten together while coated in the creamy Li Hing and Ume flavored Vinaigrette is so, so ONO! I really encourage you to try making this refreshing and very unique salad. 5-SPAM Musubi!

Kat did a spin on this recipe, substituting Mayo for the egg and EVOO for the salad oil. Read about it on her blog here.

Moving along and pushing my “Li Hing Luck”, since I was on a roll and I had a fresh hot batch of Charsiu on-hand we just made,, I decided what the heck, let’s try it on that!…

You know what? It tasted pretty good! Not bad. Not bad at all. As you know pork goes well with sweet things, and salt always helps bring the flavor of the meat out. The only questionable part is the tart. That makes it taste a little weird, but not nearly as bad as I expected.

See, what I’m trying to concoct is a Li Hing Barbecue Sauce that would work good on Baby Back Pork Ribs. But I don’t want it to be too “Li Hingy” (that sounds funny), but just enough where you know it’s in there. I really think the sweet/sour/salty flavor of it would compliment pork (like it kinda’ did on the Charsiu) if the Li Hing BBQ sauce recipe formuation is done right. Any suggestions?

Star Pacific Trading, the same company that makes the Li Hing Plum Candy shown above also makes Li Hing Mui Sauce, so that looks like a good start. They show it being used on a salmon steak which sounds kinda’ interesting. I figure if lemon is a good flavor enhancer for fish, the tart factor in the Li Hing should work too if applied the right way. Yet in the fish’s case, I’m questioning how the sweetness would work with it. I’m thinking if I mix that Li Hing Mui Sauce with regular Barbeque Sauce that might be what I’m aiming for. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Oh, I know what might work with Li Hing Sauce – SHRIMP! As in the style of Chinese Sweet & Sour Shrimp, or as the fast-talkin’ Chinese waitress pronounces it, “Shee-shaw Ship”. lol!  I’ll do a follow-up post when I get around to trying that.

SPT has a recipe page for their Li Hing Mui sauce that includes that salmon I was talking about, which they call  ‘Li Hing Surprise’. There’s also ‘Sweet Li Hing Ginger Chicken’ (that sounds good!), ‘Li Hing Furikake Rice’ (sounds kinda’ scary), ‘Spicy Plum (Li Hing Mui) Sauce’ and coming soon ‘Sweet Shrimp Curry’. I like their thinking.

There’s certainly some things that DON’T work with Li Hing flavoring on it. I tried it on Popcorn, which is, eh, OK, but nah, pass. The tart flavor kinda’ clashes with it. Similar to that, I also tried it on Kahuku roasted corn being sold at the KCC Farmers Market…

Nah. Li Hing no work wit dis eedah (doesn’t work with the either lol). Teriyaki stay way mo’ bettah (is much better) with roasted or grilled corn.

Another one that didn’t fly well with me was Leonard’s Li Hing Malasada

The glutenous, slightly sweet, rich and “bready” flavor of the deep-fried Malasada rather clashes with the tang factor of the Li Hing. Simple as that. Nice try though. Sounded good on paper.

Then there’s use for the flavor of Li Hing in cocktails, such as the Li Hing Margarita…


Photo courtesy of House of Annie

Notice instead of salt, they use the Li Hing powder to coat the rim of the glass. Pretty much a no-brainer there. I have yet to try one of these, which I hear Buzz’s Steakhouse in Lanikai is where it originated. It sounds and looks good!

Another tasty method is to put Li Hing Mui in Carona Beer. Stick like one or two LHM in the bottle and enjoy. The Li Hing surprisingly compliments with this particular beer really well as it imparts that three-dimensional taste. Try it. Winnahz!

I also tried Li Hing powder sprinkled on Vanilla Ice Cream, which wasn’t bad. Not my favorite, but I think there’s potential for a good Li Hing Ice Cream as long as it’s subtle. I just got an ice cream machine for Christmas, so plan on seeing that on here some time this year.

Of course there’s sryup for Li Hing Shave Ice, which I have yet to try.

That’s about all I can think of for now. If you have more great (or not so great) Li Hing ideas, or know of a restaurant that features a unique menu item featuring the flavor of Li Hing, let us hear about it!

Oh, and wipe that slobber off your keyboard. lol

48 thoughts on “Li Hing Everything

  • May 17, 2013 at 6:24 am
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    I tasted Li Hing on lime coconut malasada doughnut here in Sacramento, Ca. Out of this world! Now I got to figure out where I can buy it outside of Hawaii.

  • July 8, 2013 at 4:03 pm
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    Mahalo Plenty.

  • July 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm
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    Please name the aspartame-free Li Hing Mui powder brand name and how/where to purchase some? Also have you information on the fruit genus of Li Hing Mui? Thank you.

    • July 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm
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      GraceLena,

      Well I’ll be darned, it looks like Jade changed their recipe. If you look at the package I have depicted in this post, it only lists Sugar and Dextrose Monohydrate; the latter of which is listed as a natural sugar for confectionery use such as in cereals and cake mix products. Yet, when I looked at the Jade brand being sold online, it states it has both saccharin and aspartame in it? WTH?

      There’s some useful information you might be interested in this Star Advertiser article…
      http://www.staradvertiser.com/features/20110406_Li_hing.html?id=119307389

      As for the specific genus of plum used for Li Hing Mui, I don’t have that information on-hand, but I will try and get it for you on my mext trek through Honolulu Chinatown. I’ll personally email you on it. Great questions! Thanks for visiting!

  • August 8, 2013 at 5:19 pm
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    I am looking for a recipe to make the actual li hing mui (the dried plum kind) and cannot find any recipe for the dried (plenty recipes for wet). All the li hing anything (powder, plum, etc) has aspartame in it, along with other artificial ingredients. I am looking for a recipe that has plum, salt, sugar, and licorice. I would love to make it, but don’t know the process,.

    • May 5, 2016 at 7:08 am
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      I’m also looking for a recipe to make the dried li hing mui,  if anyone has a recipe close to this please let me know.  Appreciate it very much.

  • January 13, 2014 at 2:53 am
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    I lived in Hawaii as a kid, 1984-1987. My brother and I developed a major taste for Yick Lung li hing mui, salty seed, etc. I live in South Dakota now, and my husband and I are planning a trip to Hawaii in December. The closer we get, the more my mouth waters for all things li hing mui!! I just placed an Amazon.com order for one 10 oz bag of li hing mui for about $14; really expensive, but I can’t wait 11 more months! I’m thinking a suitcase full of li hing mui for myself and my brother is in order on the trip back from Hawaii!

    • February 27, 2014 at 4:02 pm
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      So I’ve got through my li hing mui in less than a week, and couldn’t get another bag right away. This time, I decided to get a package of li hing powder, which just came from Amazon! I planning on dehydrating some fruit with li hing powder. I had to have some right away, though, so I dipped my Claussen dill pickle in it, thinking about something with some acid. It was pretty good, actually! I didn’t really expect it to be, but the sweetness reminded me of what we call bread and butter pickles; a little tart, a little sweet. Yum!

  • July 2, 2014 at 3:02 pm
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    Wonderful article! Lived in Kailua as a kid…back in the day when riding a half mile was fun and not called exercise! I’d always end up at Blackie’s Gas Station and spend a quarter on gum, cinnamon toothpicks and always a package of Yick Lung! (that dates me!)

  • July 31, 2014 at 8:53 am
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    where to buy YICK LUNG in the continental USl!! That’s is the question!

    • July 31, 2014 at 9:24 am
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      Kat,

      The YICK LUNG brand currently only makes snack chips, no “crack seed” li hing type preserved fruit products, as they were once famous for. And even then, their Nibb-its, Taco Tubes and Shrimp Chips are available in very limited supply at select retail stores on Oahu only (e.g. Don Quijote and 7-Eleven).

  • December 8, 2015 at 2:15 pm
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    Used to be a great product, but it must just be me, it is the artificial sweeteners that cannot be tolerated due to links to cancer, changing chemistry within the body etc.. please Yick Lung change it back to the pure cane sugar, I swear your product will sell more because I will buy more and what is good for old time SYD is better for all.

  • May 16, 2016 at 10:10 am
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    How long does the LHM powder last? The packets I got as gifts and from carepackages sent to me doesn’t have expiration dates. I’ve kept them dry in a storage container. Is it still good 5+ years later?

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