What do you picture when you think of Hawaii? Pristine beaches? Huge waves and surfboards? Pineapples? Palm trees? Volcanoes?
All of those things are important parts of the experience of the Hawaiian Islands. But there's another food that is popular there that you might not know much about. What are we talking about? Poi, of course!
Although some people think poi looks — and tastes! — a bit like wallpaper paste, it's actually the go-to starch for many Hawaiians. Made from the potato-shaped, bulbous underground part of the taro plant, poi is uniquely Hawaiian. Taro is grown all around the world, but only Hawaiians make poi out of it.
To make poi, you need to cook, mash, and ferment the taro roots. The taste of the poi depends upon how long it is left to ferment. Fresh poi is sometimes called “sweet poi," whereas poi that has fermented several days is often called “sour poi."
Poi can be made in various different consistencies, too. Poi connoisseurs refer to poi's consistency by giving it a title that reflects how many fingers it takes to dip and carry the poi to the mouth. That's right. Poi is one of those foods that's perfectly fine to eat with your fingers. Thus, poi might be one-, two- or three-finger poi!
For some, poi is an acquired taste. Many Hawaiians, though, love it and eat it often. It's also known for various health benefits. Some people who cannot tolerate many foods can eat a diet consisting mainly of poi. Many Hawaiian babies eat poi as their first solid food.
Poi is a starch that is low in fat and protein. It contains several important vitamins, including vitamin B, phosphorous, and calcium. It's also low in calories — even lower than rice!
While poi used to be made mainly by hand, today it's manufactured on a large scale by machines. A modern stainless steel poi mill can make 1,000 pounds of poi every six minutes! Now that's a lot of poi!
Poi can be found in Hawaiian grocery stores in plastic tubs that resemble cottage cheese containers. It's also available in smaller squeeze tubes that make it into a great on-the-go snack.