A Passion For Everything Lilikoi
“There are more than 600 varieties of lilikoi,” says Lori Cardenas, owner of Aunty Lilikoi. “Of the 60 edible varieties, only two are grown commercially – the yellow and the purple. The purple is a little sweeter and is best fresh. The yellow is tart and great for what we do.”
Cardenas makes and sells passion fruit jellies, sauces and syrups at her store in Waimea. In 1990, Tom Cassidy – father of Sue Kanoho, director of Kaua’i Visitors Bureau – created Aunty Lilikoi, and sold five products wholesale and at craft fairs. When Cardenas and husband Tony bought the business in 2001, they added to his line of lilikoi syrup, butter and jelly.
As a Navy veteran, Tony works full time for Raytheon Solipsys, a company that develops and installs innovative technology for the military and Homeland Security. In his spare time, he buys equipment for Aunty Lilikoi and maintains its website, does all the photography and helps Lori make thousands of bottles of lilikoi products.
“We do almost everything that you can think of with lilikoi,” says Cardenas. “At last count, we had 47 products. We make 26 of them, and the rest we buy from women who own small businesses.”
At the shop in Waimea you can sample all the lilikoi products, including a personal-care line from Cloud 9 Hawaii, a Kaua’i-based company that makes organic skin care and exotic fragrances.
“They hand-blend a fragrance for us using the essential oil from the purple passion flower,” Cardenas says of the line, which also includes lotion and bath gel.
Island Soap and Candles makes a lilikoi-coconut soap, and Cardenas’ sister Laura Cristobal makes Lilikoi Sugar and Passion Chili Seasoning for her Salty Wahine line.
At the store, Cardenas makes and sells Lilikoi Chiffon Pie, lilikoi fudge, ice cream and sorbet. Her big challenge is figuring out how to ship the ice cream and sorbet to Aunty Lilikoi fans on the Mainland.
Passion Fruit Wasabi Mustard ($7) is the most popular product. In fact, the Cardenases make more than 20,000 jars of it a year. It’s an award-winning best-seller at the World Wide Mustard Competition. In 2011, MidWeek Kaua’i readers voted it the best Kaua’i-made product.
The couple has two sons: Michael, who is an airline pilot, and Tom, who works for a defense contractor in Afghanistan. “Tom is really good in the kitchen,” Lori says. “He likes to experiment, and he developed the recipe for our Passion Fruit Teriyaki Sauce.”
It took four years for Lori to perfect her Passion Fruit Habanero Jelly ($7). It has a nice, strong heat that’s balanced with the tang of lilikoi. Cardenas says it’s perfect over Kaua’i Kunana Dairy goat cheese and makes a delicious holiday appetizer.
“A lady told me, ‘You really should make a pepper jelly,'” Cardenas recalls. “Well, I grew up here, so I had no idea what a pepper jelly was.”
That didn’t stop her. After some research and trial batches, she settled on a sultry blend of lilikoi and habanero chili pepper extract. It’s the best pepper jelly my husband, Dan, and I have ever tasted.
Passion Fruit Kiawe BBQ Sauce ($7) was released this spring. The smoky sauce has a mustard base and heat from that habanero extract. It’s a great finishing sauce for chicken, pork and ribs.
This Christmas, try making your holiday ham with Lilikoi Jelly ($7) or Lilikoi Syrup ($7).
“Score the ham and sprinkle it with ground cloves,” advises Cardenas, “smear it with our jelly or syrup and bake it. It makes a really pretty glaze.”
If you visit the shop, Cardenas has recipe cards that include lilikoi creme brulee, lilikoi
mousse, and to toast the holidays, lilikoi Margaritas and mimosas. Recipes also are on the Aunty Lilikoi website.
Aunty Lilikoi products are available at Big Save, Foodland and Sueoka’s, but if you want to meet Cardenas and check out the full line, take a trip to Waimea. She offers free samples!
Aunty Lilikoi Passion Fruit Products
9875 Waimea Road, Waimea
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.