What You May Not Know About Maui Sunflowers

by | May 21, 2024 | Central Maui, Earth

Get inspired in the Maui Sunflower Field!

To be among the Maui sunflowers while they’re in bloom is a special experience indeed. We’re grateful to have had several opportunities to commune with the blooms this year thanks to Pacific Biodiesel, a client of our sister business, Maui Video & Marketing.

The Story Behind those Maui Sunflowers

Maui Sunflower
Maui Sunflower by Melanie Werner

You really can’t miss these sunflowers while they’re blooming in Central Maui, but do you know the backstory? It’s a really cool one. There’s some seriously sustainable intention behind the blooms.

“These sunflowers aren’t wildflowers; they didn’t just pop up,” says Pacific Biodiesel Marketing Director Joy Galatro. “2017 was the first field in bloom, and the reason we’re in agriculture is to grow more feedstock, the ingredient to make our fuel.”

Sustainable from the Start

Used cooking oil and biodiesel samples
Samples of Used Cooking Oil and Biodiesel

The 115-acre farm was started by Pacific Biodiesel founders Bob and Kelly King, as an additional source for their clean biofuel. They started the business nearly 30 years ago with the first biodiesel pump in America here on Maui. Their mission was focused on being “community-based.” These days, that’s known as the “circular economy,” which brings maximum benefits to our local community.

As an example, the award-winning company recycles used cooking oil from restaurants across the state to make biodiesel, however the Kings wanted to expand that source to include renewable agriculture.

Get to Know the Maui Sunflowers

Sunflowers with iPhone
Sunflowers in focus by Teani Kaluhikaua

Here are some fun facts about the field, and the flowers as a whole…

🌻 It’s a 100-day crop “from soil to oil,” with the bloom period only lasting about 15 days.

🌻 The farming operation is free of pesticides, herbicides and GMOs.

🌻 This is the state’s only farm powered entirely by 100% biodiesel.

🌻 The head of each sunflower has thousands of keiki flowers or tiny florets, a nectar-rich treasure trove for loyal pollinators like honeybees.

🌻 The sunflower seeds are right below the surface of the flowers (check out our video to see them appear)!

🌻 The sunflowers get harvested for the seeds, then those seeds get crushed not only to source more biofuel, but also to make culinary-grade oil.

Food First, then Fuel

Maiden Hawaii Naturals culinary oils
Maiden Hawai‘i Naturals culinary oils by Melanie Werner

Pacific Biodiesel’s sister company, Maiden Hawaii Naturals, produces both Maui Sunflower Oil and Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Oil, sourced from the sunflowers here, and mac nuts on Hawai‘i Island. They even have a really cool collection of recipe ideas from chefs and others on their Maiden Hawai‘i Naturals website.

Naturally-produced and expeller-pressed, the sunflower oil is the beautiful brilliant yellow and contains no additives or preservatives. Residents can support local and get it on Maui Hub and restaurants and retailers can order through Local Harvest.

“It’s a beautiful way to preserve the natural flavor, the aroma, the color,” Galatro explains. “You can fry with it, bake with it, use it as dressing; chefs really love the versatility of this oil.”

Inspiring the Maui Sunflower Salad

Maui Sunflower Salad with Roasted Pineapple-Tamarind Vinaigrette
Maui Sunflower Salad with Roasted Pineapple-Tamarind Vinaigrette, a local dressing made with Maui Sunflower Oil. Photo by Travis Morrin Photography

The owners of local healthy eatery Fork & Salad Maui agree.

“It’s really good; it’s buttery, it has a nice nutty flavor and it’s not overpowering,” says Fork & Salad Maui Co-owner/Chef Travis Morrin. “The flavor profile lends itself well to a lot of other ingredients, flavors, infusions. What I like about sunflower oil is it has a high smoking point so you can cook with it, sauté with it. I also like it with dressing — you can taste the sunflower seeds once you add the salt to it.”

Morrin incorporates the sunflower oil into his Roasted Maui Gold Pineapple-Tamarind dressing, which pairs with the special Maui Sunflower Salad and is available at the Kīhei and Kahului restaurants only during the span of the sunflower cycle.

“When we designed the salad, we wanted a neutral flavor profile like the sunflower oil that would lend well to tamarind and roasted pineapple,” he says, “and once it got tossed with the greens, roasted vegetables, goat cheese and crunchy, salty sunflower seeds, all those flavors come together.”

Sustainable Roots Grow Beyond Maui

Sunflower Field Blessing on Kauai
Sunflower Field Blessing on Kaua‘i with Hālau Ka Pa Hula O Hinano

The Kings do their best to demonstrate a model of diversified agriculture and renewable energy that supports greater energy security and food security in Hawai‘i. And it’s now moved beyond Maui, with a new 100-acre field planted on Earth Day over on Kauai, celebrated with a Hawaiian blessing and tour of its new crushing mill and agricultural operations with community leaders and local students.

“At its core, this project supports Hawaiʻi’s circular economy, using local resources and creating local jobs to produce products for our local community while urgently fighting the effects of climate change,” said Pacific Biodiesel Founder and President Bob King.

They expect to see the first sunflower blooms on Kaua‘i in July, with harvest of the field by late summer.

The Maui sunflower field played host to a really unique event this bloom cycle, known as forest bathing. Learn more on the free forest therapy walks happening through Fall in our video, “How Healing Trees Maui is Here to Help.”

#MauiEarth #MauiInspired