As frigid weather grips much of the U.S. during January, tropical Hawaii beckons in the Pacific, luring visitors from the cold, ice, and snow of the North American winter. Of course, soaking up sun on a beach is just one of many activities for vacationers in Hawaii. Factory tours offer an entertaining diversion from sand and sea. Read about some of them here, and consult Watch It Made in the U.S.A. to see our full coverage of Hawaiian factory tours.
In Hilo, it seems that Big Island Candies is prepared to dip almost anything in chocolate: animal crackers, fortune cookies, even cuttlefish. The company's more conventional products include original and chocolate-dipped shortbread and local favorites such as macadamia nuts. On this self-guided tour, you look through big glass windows at the cylindrical melters that liquefy huge batches of chocolate. Big Island Candies is one of the few facilities of this size that still dip by hand: dippers in black aprons fill their bowls at the melters.
Sweet things include more than just candy. Founded in 1851, Dole Pineapple Plantation in Wahiawa is the largest producer and marketer of fresh fruits and vegetables in the world. Located on Oahu's North Shore, the Dole Plantation has a visitor center in a splendid replica of a plantation mansion. Surrounding the center of the building is a traditional cooling verandah, ringed by tall trees and luxuriant shrubs. Inside, a marketplace, a country store, and a series of building façades attempt to give an impression of old Haleiwa Town. Displays tell the history of the pineapple business and how experts choose and slice pineapples.
Though almost all macadamia nuts are grown in Hawaii, the nut is actually native to Australia and wasn't grown in Hawaii until 1921. In 1976 Mauna Loa began marketing macadamia nuts in Hilo. This tour lets you look through gallery windows at processing and packaging.
The process begins with shelling. (Ingeniously, the entire plant runs on the renewable energy provided by burning shells and husks.) Then the nuts enter the main factory. Electric eyes grade and sort the nuts, allowing only light, uniformly colored specimens to reach the roaster. Blue-hatted workers stand over the conveyor belt, also searching for rejects. The nuts are dry-roasted in large rectangular ovens, traveling slowly on conveyor belts for 15 minutes. When roasting ends, the nuts are sorted again: some are salted, candy-glazed, or made into nut brittle. The packaging machine shoots the nuts into fast-moving open metal tins, which then move down the line for vacuum sealing.
Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that produces coffee. In a guided tour at Holualoa Kona Coffee Company, you see the processing operation. First comes the hulling, in which parchment beans are dumped into a tall and thin elevator. The elevator pours them into the huller, which removes the parchment skin to reveal green coffee beans, which are then dropped by another elevator into the grader. The grader comprises a series of screens with different-sized holes stacked on top of each other: the screens shake, causing the coffee beans to fall through the holes they fit into. The largest (and best) beans are separated. Peaberry, the most valuable bean, has a distinct flavor and shape. A gravity table further separates the coffee, this time by density.
In the next building, you see the coffee whirl in the 40-pound roaster; air from a blower tosses the coffee beans around to prevent burning. The person who does the roasting explains how to take care of your coffee and how to distinguish good beans from low-quality ones. As it turns out, medium-roast coffee has more caffeine than dark-roast kinds because the longer coffee is roasted, the more caffeine is roasted out.
For many more fascinating facts about stuff you use daily, see our book Watch It Made in the U.S.A.
Posted By Karen Axelrod Jan 4, 2008