Inamona is a Hawaiian condiment made from roasted nuts of the kukui, or candlenut tree (Aleurites moluccanus), and paʻakai, Hawaiian salt. Inamona is used in Hawaiian cooking to add a distinctive salty, nutty flavor to vegetable, pork, and raw fish dishes. It is an essential ingredient in poke (marinated diced raw fish) and is sometimes mixed with the various kinds of seaweed (limu) that feature in Hawaiian gastronomy.
The kukui tree is the official state tree of Hawaii, and its blossom is the official flower of Molokaʻi. The tree was brought to Hawaii by Polynesian seafarers as one of the “canoe plants” intentionally carried across the sea to cultivate on new islands. Early Hawaiians used kukui bark, wood, roots, nuts, flowers, and sap to make torches, leis, and kapa (barkcloth). Kukui nuts can be consumed raw and are used medicinally as a laxative.
To make traditional inamona, the kukui fruits are harvested, dried, and husked. The exposed dried nuts are roasted over hot coals until evenly blackish brown. They are then cooled, sometimes dipped in cold water to crack the secondary husk and expose the kernel. First ground with a pohaku (stone) and kini (mortar), the crushed kukui kernels are then mixed with paʻakai to prevent rancidity. The paʻakai used in the production of traditional inamona has a mineral flavor and a reddish-brown color caused by the presence of alaea (volcanic clay). Some modern recipes call for the addition of chilies or chili water. Traditionally, inamona is stored in an ipu (gourd), which keeps the condiment cool and allows it to breath. If kept in a dry, cool place, inamona can last for 6 months to a year, but it is traditionally prepared fresh as needed.
While inamona is still made at home with foraged kukui nuts, it can also now be purchased at Hawaiian markets and online—but most of the inamona on the market is made using non-traditional processes. The traditional process for preparing inamona is at risk of being lost, along with the traditional flavor of this Hawaiian speciality, as coal roasting is replaced with oven roasting, crushing techniques are mechanized, and the addition of salt as a preservative is no longer necessary (some commercial “inamona” is simply crushed kukui nuts in a sealed bag).