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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Limu the Hawaiian term for edible seaweeds, merits its own entry because of the extraordinary concentration, in a relatively small population, of knowledge and skill in preparing seaweeds as food, and also because Hawaiians have used an appreciable number of species which are not consumed elsewhere, for example Grateloupia filicina, called huluhuluwaena, pubic hair limu, because of its hairlike branches. Rachel Laudan (1996) explains:

The Hawaiians had names for over 80 seaweeds, of which 32 can be equated with scientific names. Limu was one of the few vegetable foodstuffs that was available to the first arrivals in Hawaii and it played an important role as a seasoning, equivalent to the herbs and spices of Europe and Asia. It was especially important for women. Their diet consisted primarily of poi (pounded taro); pork, coconut, and all but three varieties of banana were denied them. The women picked limu, gossiping as they cleaned it, glad of the seasoning it brought to their foods. With the arrival of the Europeans and the changing of the Hawaiian diet, the number of species that were commonly eaten gradually declined. The reefs have been picked clean of many of the more popular forms of edible seaweed. Limu pickers have become rarer. No longer do women and children search for limu in the debris thrown up by storms on Waikiki Beach as once they did.