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Pound for pound poi is considered by many one of the most colorful and unique foods found on Hawaii’s menus. A staple for the Polynesian voyagers who made Hawaii home, poi is prepared from the taro (or kalo in Native Hawaiian) plant and created by mashing the cooked taro, either baked or steamed, until it reaches its preferred consistency.

When pigging out on poi…

On the luau buffet, poi is often found poured into a cup and best discerned by its soft purple color. Fresh poi is known for having a delicate, sweet flavor, which grows increasingly sour as it ferments.

For the discerning diner, the best consistency to consume poi is often a topic for debate. Poi can range from a paste to dough-like substance.
Locals are often in debate about the best way to eat poi. There are some who prefer sour, week-old poi to fresh sweet poi and even more who like to flavor their poi with milk and/or sugar or even shoyu (soy sauce). While many kamaaina (locals) may prefer to pound (eat) poi on its own, some visitors might want to try mixing their first bites with a piece of kalua pork, lau lau or lomi lomi salmon.

Taro Plants

Taro plants growing in the Hanalei Valley on Kauai, Hawaii

About poi’s past

In ancient Hawaii poi was looked upon as a significant and sacred part of daily life. In fact, Hawaiians believed that the taro plant was their original ancestor. Whenever a bowl of poi was uncovered at a meal, Native Hawaiians believed that the spirit of the Hawaiian people (or Haloa) was present, and as a result, all conflict came to a halt.

How to whip up a pot of poi

Planning a local luau spread at home? You can pick up a bag of fresh, pre-pounded poi at your local grocery store and with some quick tricks, transform that pasty poi bag into a hearty Hawaiian treat.

Here are some tips the locals use:

  • If you find the poi you purchased is hard, remove it from the bag and place it into a baking pan covered with clear saran wrap and steam it for 20 minutes.
  • After transferring the poi from a bag to a bowl, mix the poi by hand adding small spoonfuls of water at a time until the poi reaches its desired consistency.
  • If you need to store poi in the refrigerator, add a thin layer of water over the poi to keep it from drying out.
  • Poi is best enjoyed cold or at room temperature. Stick a spoon in it and enjoy!