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The History of Crack Seed in Hawaii

Hawaiian crack is of the seed variety. It’s the original finger licking good snack and our entire state is obsessed with it. Just the mention of crack seed is enough to cause our mouths to water and our lips to pucker.

So just how did Hawaiians become obsessed with salty, dried fruit from Asia? Well, it all goes back to early immigrants who came to Hawaii to work in the pineapple and sugar plantations. Workers from China, Japan, the Philippines, and other places brought their traditional foods with them. As time went on recipes changed and foods like manapua, sushi, and pansit became “local.”

Li Hing Mui was brought to the islands by Chinese immigrants from Zhongshan, China. Li hing mui (旅行梅) means “traveling plum,” which makes sense since dried, preserved fruits are great for taking on long trips, such as the journey across the Pacific Ocean these Chinese immigrants took to get here. Preserved seeds both last a long time and also can help replenish salt lost by sweat.

Yick Lung was the first company to make Li Hing Mui a profitable commercial enterprise. They began importing preserved fruit, also known as See Mui, in bulk from China in the early 1900s. In order to appeal to local taste buds they would season the preserved plums with salt, licorice and other spices to create new types of seed snacks such as rock salt plum, sweet sour plum, and crack seed.

The term Crack Seed is now used throughout Hawaii to refer to all types of preserved fruit snacks. However, it is also a specific type of preserved plum with its actual pit or seed cracked open and marinated in a delicious sweet and sour sauce. You suck on the seed and eat the surrounding meat while licking your sticky red fingers. Mmmmmm.

Other popular types of crack seed include li hing flavored gummy bears, lemon peel, and seedless cherry. At first glance dried, shriveled fruit might not seem appealing, but please don’t let that deter you from trying some of Hawaii’s favorite snacks. We promise you they taste better than they look!

Hawaiian crack is of the seed variety. It's the original finger licking good snack and our entire state is obsessed with it. But just what is crack seed?

Yick lung crack seed

Peter Yee was known as Mr. Crack Seed in 1970s

Peter Yee and his brother, Frederick, imported preserved fruit, added their own spices and flavorings and hit the jackpot with the Yick Lung company they bought from the family.

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A Yick Lung delivery truck was the next transportation step from the horse-drawn carriages that carried the company products in the early 1900s.

Anyone who grew up in Hawai’i in the second half of the 20th century is sure to have sampled the flavorful preserved plums and other crack seed offerings created by Peter G.H. Yee and sold under the Yick Lung brand.

Yee and his brother Frederick took the preserved fruit treats, first brought to Hawai’i by Cantonese immigrants 100 years earlier, and transformed them into a staple in snack food aisles across the state.

Yee died last month in Fountain Valley, Calif. He was 87.

The brothers would take the preserved fruit they imported in bulk and add their own spices and flavorings to give the snacks a local twist.

A sprinkling of rock salt on the preserved plums created “rock salt plum.” A bit of licorice mixed in with another batch produced “sweet sour seed.” A dusting of savory powder on the dried plums resulted in “ling hing mui.”

“They would add the flavorings then come up with the names for each one,” recalled Sterling Yee, Peter’s son.

Although the brothers weren’t the first to bring in preserved fruit, or “see mui,” from China, they are credited with being the first to mass market it through the company founded by their parents at the turn of the century. In one of the preserved plum varieties the pit of the preserved fruit was cracked to expose the kernel inside. From that grew the generic term of crack seed to describe the whole range of preserved fruit treats.

The brothers helped turn Yick Lung into a household name in the 1960s and 1970s with a marketing campaign that included a jingle, television commercials and promotions on the Checkers and Pogo children’s television show. At the time, Peter Yee earned the nickname, “Mr. Crack Seed.”

Yick Lung, which means “profitable enterprise” in Cantonese, was primarily a candy company when it was run by his grandparents, Yee Sheong and Kam Tai Leong, according to Sterling Yee. Peter and Frederick K.S. Yee, along with their nine other siblings, took over the company when their father Yee Sheong died in 1944.

Peter and Frederick bought out the other family members in 1950 and added crack seed to the lineup of Yick Lung snacks.

“They imported preserved fruit in bulk and added flavors depending on what they thought would sell here. They repackaged it and marketed it in retail locations,” Sterling Yee said.

Peter and Frederick ran Yick Lung through the 1980s, with the help of Frederick’s son, Douglas, who joined the company in 1969.

Peter retired from the company in 1983 and moved to Southern California. He sold his stake in the company to other family members in 1989. Frederick died in 1991 at the age of 74.

Yick Lung filed for bankruptcy in 1996 as it struggled to pay off tax debts and faced increasing competition from other snack distributors.

Peter Yee is survived by his wife, Delphine; other sons, Malcolm and Marvin; daughter, Beverly Reindollar; and five grandchildren.

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