The Reign of Rice in Hawaii

One of the most important staples in Hawaii is rice. Due to the diversity of cultures that have made Hawaii their home, rice continues to be included in home cooking, picnics, and restaurants. But, at one time there were rice fields all over the islands, and rice was exported to the mainland USA. Today, no traces remain of the once richly farmed rice paddies in Hawaii.

Rice, eggs and spam for breakfast in Hawaii at McDonald's

Chicken Long Rice and Pak Choy

Remaining rice mill in Hanalei Hawaii

History

Whaling was the main industry bolstering the economy of Hawaii in the early 1800s. Whale oil was used as a substitute for kerosene, which was manufactured up until the 1860s. Civil War resulted in a loss of much of the whaling fleet, so agricultural production including sugar and rice quickly dominated. Rice was second in value to sugar (from sugar cane) which was raised in the islands.

From 1860 - 1920, Rice was raised in the islands of Hawaii, particularly in Kauai and Oahu because of their abundance of rain. In Kauai, the Hanalei Valley had the highest amount of acreage planted in rice. Rice production in Hanalei actually continued up to 1960.

It was in 1850 that the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural Society was formed to develop Hawaii's agricultural resources. They purchased land in the Nuuanu Valley and Made Dr. H. Holstein manager over it. He planted imported rice seed from China in a former taro patch.

At first the Society offered this rice seed to anyone in Hawaii who wanted to plant it. King Kamehameha IV also offered land grants for cultivation of rice. Not too many took advantage of the offers. The drawback to raising rice was that there were no proper milling facilities in Hawaii. The first trials by Holstein produced dark unpolished rice which was unmarketable.

In 1860, A Dr. Seth Ford imported rice seed from South Carolina which was very successful and yielded a fair amount of crop. News of this success spread throughout the islands of Hawaii, and in 1861 it seemed that everyone and their uncle were excited about raising rice. Taro plantations were replaced with rice until the Hawaiians started to wonder where they were going to get their taro from (their beloved root crop which is pounded into poi).

Chinese were brought in to man the fields. By 1862 exports of rice to California grew by leaps and bounds. A treaty between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii was made in 1876. The Reciprocity Treaty granted duty-free status including rice. Hawaii rice production in 1899 placed third behind Louisiana and South Carolina. It was sent unhulled and uncleaned to be milled in San Francisco. Finally in 1862, a Seth Ford developed the first rice mill in the Hawaiian Islands which was stationed in Honolulu. By 1887 over 13 million pounds of rice were exported.

The Chinese population in Hawaii grew from 1200 in 1860 to 18,254 by 1884. In 1882 the US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, so then Japanese workers were brought in to take their place. Within only five years the Japanese made up more than forty per cent of the plantation work force in Hawaii. This was the beginning of the decline of rice production in Hawaii. Japanese preferred short grain rice rather than the long grain rice the Chinese were used to eating. So rice began to be imported from California for the Japanese. Also, the hard labor techniques in Hawaii were soon overtaken by the machine technology in California.

The younger generation were not as interested in rice farming and that along with an infestation of the rice borer and a bird that ate rice, rice production in Hawaii declined and faded out. Attempts to revive rice production by the University of Hawaii in 1906 and 1933 saw a flicker of hope, but eventually died out.

Today there is only a reminder of the reign of rice in Hawaii. There is a restored Haraguchi Rice Mill in Hanalei Valley on Kauai.

Although the exportation of rice has stopped, Hawaii still loves rice, and there are so many different delicious ways to make it.

Musubi is one of the local favorites. It is easily made and taken to the beach.

Rice flour is made into delicious mochi in a rainbow of flavors and colors.

Rice is steamed. made into noodles and the flour is used to thicken soups and stews.

You never worry about left over rice because it can be made into fried rice, rice rolls and a tons of other things.

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Comments 18 comments

elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Many people think we eat only root crops, but rice is pretty much daily fare around here for some. Asian influence I guess. Thanks pmccray for commenting.


pmccray profile image

pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

Never to old to learn. I didn't know that rice was a staple of Hawaii. Very well written piece. Rated up


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

I haven't had that experience yet. Pretty funny, but then Hilo is another world (and a beautiful one at that!). I love Hilo.


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Imagine my surprise when I ordered a hamburger in Hilo and it had rice inside the beef patty! I believe rice is a health substitute for potatoes. great hub!


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Thanks Nera. Thanks for the comments. I hope to go to visit the Philippines soon. My daughter-in-law is from there. She and the grandkids love rice more than anything else when they come.


Nera Woods profile image

Nera Woods 6 years ago

Your photo on rice planting can be mistaken as one taken here in the Philippines, as rice is our staple food. We still plant rice that way in the provinces, although most of the related processes are already mechanized.

Visited your Ning site. Wow, great art works!


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Thanks Nancy Zhai. You are very kind.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

I guess if you eat too much rice and not enough of the other good stuff, you can get pretty chubby, and it all depends on what you put on the rice. But Asians eat it pretty much all the time and are pretty small. Thanks HealthyHanna for your comments.


HealthyHanna profile image

HealthyHanna 6 years ago from Utah

I love rice, and I love Hawaii. I have read some things lately about rice not being so good for you, but I don't believe it.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Thanks drbj for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed my hub about rice production in Hawaii. I love friend rice too.


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

Mahalo, Elayne, for this interesting and extremely well-written hub about the history of rice in Hawaii. I chuckled when I read your line about not worrying about left-over rice. You are so right. It can always be made into something else - fried rice being one of my favorites.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Appreciate your comments Pamela99. Hope you are enjoying the summer.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Elayne, I enjoyed this hub and history your shared. Thanks.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Thanks Hello, hello and Liana K. I was surprised to find out that rice was once grown here. I just thought we had pineapple and sugar cane. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.


LianaK profile image

LianaK 6 years ago

I love spam, rice and eggs for breakfast! Thanks for posting all the wonderful information about rice in Hawaii. I had no idea :)


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

That is a wonderful, interesting piece of history. Thank you very much.


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains Author

Glad you enjoyed my hub about rice in Hawaii billyaustindillon. I appreciate your comments.


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Very interesting history of rice in Hawaii - particularly the differences of short grain and long grain and the Japanese and Chinese influences.

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