After a couple of years of the typical college lifestyle at the University of Portland, Maile Kamisugi realized she needed to adjust her focus.
“For the first two years, I did the usual partying, then my priority was to get healthy. It was a personal goal,” said the Manoa native, who now runs and owns the year-old ‘Ulu and Kalo Bakery.
The bakery offers a short list of products made with ulu (breadfruit) and kalo (taro) flours, plus other canoe plants brought to the islands by ancient Polynesians who settled here.
Kamisugi worked out a lot but eventually came to realize that perhaps even more than exercise, food was key to healthfulness. So after finishing up in Oregon, she enrolled in Kapiolani Community College’s culinary program, then worked in the kitchens at Kokua Market, The Nook, Fete and Fresh Box. During her stint at Fete, Kamisugi was assigned a pastry position and discovered her affinity for baking.
After a cultural exchange to Australia, where she got more restaurant experience and began exploring gluten-free baking, she returned to Hawaii and delved into canoe plants. Kamisugi discovered that ulu and kalo are not only gluten free, they are complex carbohydrates and nutrient-rich.
In comparison, she said, rice and potato flours are much lower in nutritional value. Other flours, such as those made from beans, can be so dominant in flavor that they require excessive amounts of refined sugar to balance them out. Not so with kalo and ulu flours, she found, after experimentation in the kitchen.
“You need to play around with the flours and figure out what combinations work out well,” she said.
Kamisugi said working with canoe plants also gives her a connection to Hawaii she’s never had before.
“I never ate ulu and kalo when I was young, but (in researching) I developed an appreciation for them — they’re so full of nutrition, much more so than rice or potatoes, that I wanted to integrate them into my baking. There’s been such a loss of food culture here, but now people are raising up ulu and kalo, so it’s good timing.”
KAMISUGI’S LINE includes about 10 products, which she sells via direct orders and at the Hawaii Farm Bureau’s Blaisdell farmers market on Wednesdays.
Each product is listed on her website, uluandkalobakery.com, complete with an ingredient list.
In addition to the ulu and kalo flours, Kamisugi tends to incorporate cassava flour and coconut oil into most recipes. All of her items are gluten-free and most are vegan (the rest are vegetarian); each is labeled.
Topping the list is her ‘Ulu Mai‘a Bread ($1.75 per mini loaf), banana bread that includes maia (banana) and three forms of coconut — oil, milk and sugar. (Banana and coconut are also canoe plants.) It’s a hearty, satisfying fruit bread that’s delicious without being overly sweet. Kamisugi said the ingredients don’t require it.
“It helps that when ulu is ripe it’s really sweet naturally — bananas too,” she said. “I really don’t add a lot of coconut sugar.”
Thin, crisp ‘Ulu Chocolate Chip Cookies ($6.25 for a 4.5-ounce bag) have a fine and heavy crumb, a texture different from traditional cookies. But they are as buttery and addictive as any wheat version, thanks to macadamia nut butter, macadamia nut milk, coconut sugar and maple syrup, with an ulu flavor that shines through.
‘Ulu Crackers ($5 per package) are crunchy, savory crisps with a garlic punch that provide substantive satisfaction on their own, but are perfect for serving with dips.
Rounding out her most popular products is the Kalo Brownie ($2 apiece), a densely rich chocolatey treat that gets its heft from kalo itself rather than kalo flour. Kamisugi said it is this item that draws new customers to her booth. So much so, in fact, that she often bakes up special versions of the dessert, incorporating ingredients such as peanut butter.
She presents these items weekly at the Blaisdell market. Other treats that may appear as specials include doughnuts, ulu-banana bread pudding and cake slices.
Kamisugi’s other products may be ordered, including oatmeal-raisin cookies, a line of granolas and special-order cakes.
Based on customer reactions, her years of honing her gluten-free baking skills have paid off. “In the past, gluten-free products were known for cardboard flavor,” she said. “When people try my baked goods, it’s mostly for the ulu and kalo. When they find out they’re gluten-free, they’re pleasantly surprised.”
ULU & KALO BAKERY
>> To purchase: Hawaii Farm Bureau Honolulu Farmers Market at Blaisdell Center, 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays
>> To order: Visit uluandkalobakery.com for a product lineup; place orders at email@example.com
>> Also: Look for the bakery at the 25th Annual Made in Hawaii Festival in August
“Going Gluten-Free” helps meet the cooking and dining challenges faced by those on wheat-free diets. It runs on the first Wednesday of each month. Send questions to Joleen Oshiro, firstname.lastname@example.org.