Thursday, September 9, 2010


Haw flakes were once and will always be a favorite snack of mine. I went to elementary school in San Francisco's Richmond district, which is one of the several unofficial Chinatowns we have around here, and Haw Flakes were an unquestioned part of every black-haired child's snack life.

The ingredients are simple: haw, sugar, water. The discs recall communion wafers and melt away if you place them on your tongue and wait patiently. Press them to the roof of your mouth, and they break apart softly into grainy pieces that dissolve quickly. The taste is only very slightly tart and mostly fruity, but again in a kind of oblique manner, not so exaggeratedly flavored in the camp way of mainstream American fruit snacks. Some have compared it to the taste of fruit leather or fruit roll-ups, which I think is more or less accurate, despite the difference of texture.

I lived for an impressive amount of time before ever having to doubt the normalcy of this snack or to explicate its ingredients in any meaningful way. Haw was haw and that was that. Sometimes a lighter-haired friend would venture some objection to this mysterious package, but they were usually made to feel shame for their ignorance by the Asian majority. At some point between college and graduate school, I fell out of my Asian buffer zone, with the consequence that Haw Flakes became newly cast as a strange freakshow food to be sniffed at suspiciously and the accuracy of its terse ingredient list challenged ("I don't know... they're probably not listing all the chemicals in it"). I would offer the haw with assurances of its auspicious, most delicious qualities, but couldn't really say whether "haw" was a Chinese word or a substance also known here.

It turns out that "haw" in fact refers to the crushed up berries of the hawthorn tree and used to be eaten in rural areas of the American south before the industrial food system taught people to be afraid of food that didn't come from a grocery store (though the Chinese hawthorn may vary from trees found in this hemisphere).

Here is a great description of Haw Flakes on that was written as a serious information source after the site had to take down its earlier reference to a Haw Flake writeup by some "totally clueless American" when said "clueless American" wrote to complain and threaten a code-yellow Homeland security alert. Read angry letter here. And click here to read the angry American's original post, which includes such choice lines as, "What's a firework doing with an ingredient list? And what the hell was a 'HAW', anyway? Haw haw haw! Well, since the whole ten-pack cost thirty-nine cents, I figured what the hey." and "There was no way I was going to eat these babies until I figured out what 'haw' meant - I didn't want to find out it was Chinese for 'pig innards' after knocking down a pack."


Leif Hedendal said...


kale daikon said...

Whoa, you 'Mericans act FAST!

Anonymous said...

Mmmm.... haw flakes. It's been a while since I got my haw on.

Next post: white rabbit candy.

lu said...

i'm white, but i grew up in the bay area and we always picked some of these up in chinatown (the official one- i didn't even know about anything but chinatown and market till i moved to the outer sunset). i LOVE them, and have always had to field questions about what the hell they were. i'm glad i finally know! :D