Why We Love Hawaiian Poi (And Why You Should Try It!)

Hawaiian Poi
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Have you ever heard of Hawaiian Poi? If you’ve ever visited the islands, you’ve likely encountered this unique dish. Poi is a traditional Polynesian food made from pounded kalo [taro]. For many Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, Poi is a dietary staple. But for many visitors, it’s shrouded in an air of mystery. 

S, what exactly is Hawaiian Poi, and should you try it when you visit the islands? Today we’re learning all about this interesting (and tasty!) food and encouraging you to try it the next time you get a chance. 

What is Poi?

Poi is a starchy, mashed food that’s made from cooked taro root. It’s typically a grayish-purple color and will range from runny to thick. Older poi tastes sour, while fresher poi has a mild or sweet flavor. 

Today, you’ll see poi served as a side at many luaus and Hawaiian restaurants. It goes great with poke, kalua pig, smoked meat, and fried or dried fish. But Hawaiians and Polynesians throughout history ate poi as a dietary staple. It’s rich in nutrients, high in carbs and calories, low in fat, and packed with fiber.

How It’s Made

Wondering how to make Poi? While there are lots of modern ways to prepare Poi, today we’re sharing the traditional method for preparing this Hawaiian dish.

Grow Kalo

Farmers and home gardeners grow taro either in very wet, irrigated fields (called wetland kalo) or in the dryer (yet still quite wet) soils (this is called upland, or drayland, kalo). 

If you travel to Hawaii, you’ll recognize Kalo by its huge, heart-shaped leaves. Many gardeners grow kalo ornamentally, but many still grow it on a large scale for poi and other traditional practices. 

The Kalo Roots

In order to make Poi, you’ll need to dig in, literally! Poi is made from the underground corm of the kalo plant. It’s a potato-like bulb, and it’s also quite starchy like a potato. In addition to making poi, many people will use the roots to make chips. It’s also tasty cut up and steamed or served in stews.

Hawaiian Poi Pounding

Once you have your kalo corm, you’re ready to steam it and pound it into a paste. A poi pounder looks a lot like a paperweight, and they come in a range of sizes. You may find them made of wood, rock, or coral. Today, many poi makers use a food processor to turn the kalo into poi. 

Once you have your paste, add water until it’s as thick or thin as you like it. 

A plate of Hawaiian Food with poi (1)

Fermenting Poi

You can eat poi right away if you want. Fresh poi has a mild, sweeter taste. Most people will let the poi sit for a few hours or a few days. This allows the poi to ferment and develop a sour taste. The fermentation process also loads the poi with probiotics, making it an even more nutritious food. 

How Do You Like Your Poi?

One of the cool things about Poi is that everybody has their preferences for it. Most people who try poi for the first time will say it’s pretty flavorless, and some might not like the texture. It’s considered an acquired taste, and many repeat visitors find that they really enjoy Hawaiian Poi over time. 

You may hear of one-, two-, or three-finger poi, which signifies its consistency. A thick poi will only require one finger to scoop it up and eat it, while the thinnest poi will require three. It’s ok if you don’t want to use your finger to eat poi, but as you try it multiple times, you’ll likely get a preference for how thick you like it. 

You’ll also slowly develop a preference for how sweet or sour you want your poi. If you purchase a bag of poi from the grocery store, it will have a label that says how old it is. You can also add water to the poi to make it thinner. 

I prefer my poi quite sour and just thick enough to stay on a fork when I scoop it up. So I find an older bag of poi, add a bit of water to it, and I’m ready to go. Of course, I also pick up some Oyster Poke from the store’s poke counter to eat with my poi. 

How do you like your Hawaiian poi? If you think you don’t like the food, you may need to try it a few times. You may find you like it only with certain foods, prefer it a certain consistency, or want it just so sour. 

Spoon in bowl of poi

Fun Facts About Hawaiian Poi

Ready to learn more about Poi? This is such an interesting food with a rich history. Ahead I’m sharing some of my favorite things I’ve learned about poi. The more you know, the more likely you are to appreciate this unique dish!

It Could Have Medicinal Uses

Poi is so filling and nutritional that it can be a life-sustaining food. But modern medicine is eyeing it as an incredible source of probiotics. Recent research found poi has more probiotics in yogurt, and it could be a key treatment for people with digestive issues. 

In Hawaii, poi is a popular baby food. Local parents will serve their little ones poi Instead of mashed sweet potatoes or rice cereal. 

It Lends Its Name to the Hawaiian Poi Dog

Today, many locals will call any mutt a Poi Dog. But this was actually the name of a real dog breed that lived in Hawaii for many years. It’s now extinct, but many breeders are trying to recreate the unique dog. 

Hawaiian Poi Dogs were lazy and fat and often lived with the pigs. They rarely barked and were mild-tempered. Stories also say they were raised for eating, just like pigs. 

Poi is One of the Oldest Hawaiian Foods

Taro isn’t native to Hawaii, but it is one of the original “canoe crops,” which were the plants that the earliest Polynesian settlers brought to the islands. For centuries, poi helped sustain Hawaiians, providing them with vital nutrition and a range of flavors to enjoy. 

Where to Try Poi in Hawaii

A plate of Hawaiian Food with poi

So, are you ready to try poi? I recommend trying it multiple times to get used to it and decide how you like it. Here are some places where you can try this true Hawaiian food. 

  • Luaus: We especially love the food at Paradise Cove Luau on Oahu and Old Lahaina Luau on Maui. Luaus are often the one and only place where visitors try poi. While it’s a good starting point, your poi-tasting journey shouldn’t end at your luau. 
  • Foodland: Foodland is a local grocery store chain that has locations throughout Hawaii. This is a great place to pick up Poke and poi. Look for poi near the poke counter or in the produce section. It will likely be in a clear one-pound bag or tub. 
  • Highway Inn: This decades-old restaurant is a favorite for Hawaiian food, and it’s a great place to try poi with lau lau, kalua pork, poke, or fried fish. They have locations in Waipahu and Kakaako. 
  • Wiahole Poi Factory: Just like its name suggests, this place knows how to make poi. And they make great Hawaiian food to go along with it. Try Chicken Long Rice, kalua pig, laulau, or squid luau. If you hear locals talk about Hawaiian Food, the items on the Wiahole Poi Factory are probably what they have in mind. 
A small plastic cup of poi

Poi Perfection

Now that you know everything about Poi – including where to find it – you’re ready to enjoy! And when you eat poi, remember that you’re not just trying a quirky local food – you’re eating something that’s significant to Hawaiian culture and history. 
Want to try more Hawaiian foods? Here is a guide to our top 8 foods to try in Hawaii!