Poi (food)

Poi is primarily the traditional staple food in native cuisine of Hawaii, made from the underground plant stem (corm) of taro (known in Hawaiian as kalo).

Traditional poi is produced by mashing the cooked corm (baked or steamed) on a papa ku‘i ‘ai, a wooden pounding board, with a pōhaku ku‘i ‘ai, a carved basalt pestle. Modern methods use an industrial food processor to produce large quantities for retail distribution. Freshly pounded taro without the addition of water is called pa‘i ‘ai and is highly starchy and dough-like. Water is added to the pa‘i ‘ai during mashing, and again just before eating, to achieve the desired consistency, which can range from highly viscous to liquid. As such, poi can be classified as "one-finger", "two-finger", or "three-finger" depending on the consistency, alluding to how many fingers are required to scoop it up (the thicker the poi, the fewer fingers required to scoop a sufficient mouthful).

Poi can be eaten immediately, when fresh and sweet, or left a bit longer to ferment and become more sour – it then develops a smell reminiscent of plain yoghurt. A layer of water on top can prevent fermenting poi from developing a crust.

Bowl of poi
A bowl of poi showing a typical consistency
Making Poi 2002 detail
A traditional way of making poi: on a wooden pounding board (papa ku‘i ‘ai) with a carved basalt pestle (pōhaku ku‘i ‘ai)

History and culture

Foot-prints of travel; or, Journeyings in many lands (1889) (14591199899)
Hawaiians eating poi (1889)
Hawaiian men pounding poi, c. 1890
Hawaiian men pounding poi (c. 1890)

Taro, a root vegetable thought to be native to Southern India and Southeast Asia and the primary poi ingredient, was highly regarded by Hawaiians, who believed that the taro plant (kalo) was the original ancestor of the Hawaiian people. Poi was considered such an important and sacred aspect of daily Hawaiian life that Hawaiians believed that the spirit of Hāloa, the legendary ancestor of the Hawaiian people, was present when a bowl of poi was uncovered for consumption at the family dinner table. Accordingly, all conflict among family members was required to come to an immediate halt.[1]

Although many of the world's people consume taro, only Hawaiians make poi. Hawaiians traditionally cook the starchy, potato-like heart of the taro corm for hours in an underground oven called an imu, which is also used to cook other types of food such as pork, carrots, and sweet potatoes.[2]

In recent years, taro-production shortages (from pests and labor shortages) have lead to higher prices for poi in Hawaiʻi. But at the same time, innovations in poi production have resulted in new formulations of poi that stay fresh longer and taste sweeter. However, such products generally sell at a premium price and require refrigeration, unlike traditional poi which can be kept unrefrigerated as it naturally ferments instead of spoiling.


Poi has a paste-like texture and a delicate flavor when freshly prepared in the traditional manner, with a pale purple color that naturally comes from the taro corm. It has a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. The flavor changes distinctly once the poi has been made: fresh poi is sweet and edible; each day thereafter the poi loses sweetness and turns sour due to a natural fermentation that involves lactobacillus bacteria, yeast, and Geotrichum fungi.[3] Therefore, some people find fermented poi more palatable if it is mixed with milk and/or sugar. The speed of this fermentation process depends upon the bacteria level present in the poi,[4] but the souring process can be slowed by storing poi in a cool, dark location. To prepare commercial poi that has been stored in a refrigerator, it is squeezed out of the bag into a bowl (sometimes adding water), and a thin layer of water is put over the part exposed to air to keep a crust from forming on top. New commercial preparations of poi require refrigeration, but stay fresh longer and taste sweeter.

Sour poi is still edible but may be less palatable, and is usually served with salted fish or Hawaiian lomi salmon on the side (as in the lyrics "my fish and poi"). Sourness can be prevented by freezing or dehydrating fresh poi, although the resulting poi after defrosting or rehydrating tends to taste bland when compared to the fresh product. Sour poi has an additional use as a cooking ingredient with a sour flavor (similar to buttermilk), usually in breads and rolls.

Nutrition and dietary and medical uses

Taro is low in fat, high in vitamin A, and abounds in complex carbohydrates.[5]

Poi has been used specifically as a milk substitute for babies, or as a baby food.[6] It is supposed to be easy to digest. It contains no gluten, making it safe to eat for people who have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.[6]

See also


  1. ^ GRAIN | Seedling | 2006 | Haloa
  2. ^ "What Is Poi Anyway?", Retrieved on November 13, 2012.
  3. ^ McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. Scriber, 2004. ISBN 978-0684800011, pg. 295
  4. ^ Brown, AC; Valiere, A. "The medicinal uses of poi". Nutr Clin Care. 7: 69–74. PMC 1482315. PMID 15481740.
  5. ^ "Powered By Poi" Archived 2011-10-08 at the Wayback Machine Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine Vol.11 No.4 (July 2007)
  6. ^ a b Brown, AC; Valiere, A. "The medicinal uses of poi". Nutr Clin Care. 7: 69–74. PMC 1482315. PMID 15481740.


External links

List of fermented foods

This is a list of fermented foods, which are foods produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms. In this context, fermentation typically refers to the fermentation of sugar to alcohol using yeast, but other fermentation processes involve the use of bacteria such as lactobacillus, including the making of foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut. The science of fermentation is known as zymology.

Many pickled or soured foods are fermented as part of the pickling or souring process, but many are simply processed with brine, vinegar, or another acid such as lemon juice.

Native cuisine of Hawaii

Native Hawaiian cuisine is based on the traditional Hawaiian foods that predate contact with Europeans and immigration from East and Southeast Asia. The earliest Polynesian seafarers are believed to have arrived on the Hawaiian Islands in 300–500 AD. Few edible plants were indigenous to Hawaii aside from few ferns and fruits that grew at higher elevations. Various food producing plants were introduced to the island by migrating Polynesian peoples.

Botanists and archaeologists believe that these voyagers introduced anywhere from 27 to more than 30 plants to the islands, mainly for food. The most important of them was taro. For centuries, taro—and the poi made from it—was the main staple of the Hawaiian diet, and it is still much loved. ‘Uala (Sweet potatoes) and yams were also planted. The Marquesans, the first settlers from Polynesia, brought ‘Ulu (breadfruit) and the Tahitians later introduced the baking banana. Settlers from Polynesia also brought coconuts and sugarcane. ʻAwa (Piper methysticum, commonly known as kava) is also a traditional food among Hawaiians. Breadfruit, sweet potato, kava and he‘e (octopus) are associated with the four major Hawaiian gods: Kāne, Kū, Lono and Kanaloa.Fish, shellfish, and limu are abundant in Hawaii. Flightless birds were easy to catch and eggs from nests were also eaten. Most Pacific islands had no meat animals except bats and lizards.Ancient Polynesians sailed the Pacific with pigs, chickens and dogs and introduced them to the islands. Pigs were raised for religious sacrifice, and the meat was offered at altars, some of which was consumed by priests and the rest eaten in a mass celebration. The early Hawaiian diet was diverse, and may have included as many as 130 different types of seafood and 230 types of sweet potatoes. Some species of land and sea birds were consumed into extinction.Sea salt was a common condiment in ancient Hawaii. Inamona is a traditional relish or condiment often accompanied meals and is made of roasted and mashed kukui nutmeats, and sea salt. It sometimes mixed with seaweeds


Pozol (from the Nahuatl "Pozōlli") is the name of both fermented corn dough and the drink made from it, which has its origins in Pre-Columbian Mexico. Other ingredients besides corn dough and water, such as cocoa, may be added to it. The drink is consumed in the south of Mexico in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco. It is a thirst-quencher which has also been used to fight diseases. It has also aided indigenous peoples of the Americas as sustenance on long trips across the jungles.

Taro purée

Taro purée, also known as taro mash or taro paste, (Chinese: 芋泥; pinyin: Yùní) is a traditional dessert in Fujianese cuisine and Teochew cuisine. Made from puréed taro and lard and served on a flat plate, the dessert is normally topped with toasted sesame seeds, and occasionally with candied ginkgo, red dates, or melon seeds.



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