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Taste of Hawaii – Poi

PoiHawaii is a cultural melting pot and this is perhaps most evident in the variety of amazing cuisine you’ll find throughout the islands. There are however a handful of foods that are uniquely Hawaiian, and one of them is Poi.

Hawaiian poi is a purple pudding like dish that you’ll find everywhere from our grocery stores to food trucks. Poi falls in to one of three categories; “one-finger”, “two-finger”, or three-finger, which refers to its consistency and how many fingers you’ll need to scoop and eat it. Poi can range from quite fluid, to thick and doughy and it is true staple food here in Hawaii.

Made from the root of the Taro plant, poi was a commodity for Hawaii’s early settlers. After it’s cooked, the taro root or corn as it is also known is mashed in to a paste and water is added until the desired consistency is achieved. When Hawaiian poi is fresh, it is considered sweet poi that then ferments over the course of several days in to what is known as sour poi. Sweet poi is often eaten with a sprinkling of sugar, while sour poi is enjoyed with lomi-lomi salmon, poke, salted fish, and other smoked meats. High in Vitamins A, B, calcium, valuable digestive enzymes, and a host of other nutrients, poi is equally as nutritious as it is delicious. In fact, poi has been used as a source of sustenance for infants with severe food / milk allergies because it is so nutritious and easy to digest.

Poi has an interesting history in Hawaii as the early Polynesian settlers considered it a sacred dish. The Taro plant is believed to contain the spirit of Haola; the child of two Hawaiian gods. When a bowl of poi was served, all disputes among family members and dinner guests were expected to come to an immediate halt so as not to disrespect Haola’s spirit. In 1911, the Board of Health believed poi was responsible for a cholera outbreak which resulted in the Poi Prohibition. All batches had to be destroyed and the sale of poi was prohibited. Because poi was a staple food for most Hawaiian families, the government began to distribute free poi throughout the islands until the creation of the poi bill which regulated its production.

Poi is an acquired taste for some, but generations of Hawaiian people can’t be wrong! As with all of Hawaii’s other delicious foods, we encourage you to be adventurous and give it a try! To read some of our other “Taste of Hawaii” posts, click the following links.