Poi: Tastes Like Wallpaper Paste
The topic of poi could actually be an interesting televised debate. It has been described by some as tasting like wallpaper paste, yet is considered a sacred food to many others.
Like the word “Aloha”, when you hear the word “poi,” one is immediately transported to Hawai’i. Then, the reaction on your face will instantly identify you as a poi lover or not a poi lover.
The main staple food of the Hawaiian people, poi is made from the root of the taro, also known as the kalo plant. It is the basis of traditional Hawaiian food.
Poi is simply made by mashing the cooked kalo until it turns in to a paste. A little bit of water is added to the kalo as it is being mashed to help with the process of mashing it. Then, once it is mashed, water is again mixed into the poi to the desired consistency.
There is no “right” consistency when it comes to poi. It is all based on personal preference. It can range from what is known as pa’i’ai, which barely has any water in it and is the consistency of dough, to the watered down version usually found in resort luau dinner shows.
Locals usually refer to the “one finger,” “two finger,” or “three finger” terms to describe the thickness of the poi. The finger terminology refers to how many fingers are required to scoop up the poi in order to eat it. The less fingers used, the thicker the poi tends to be.
Fresh or sour poi, which is better? It depends on the individual. Fresh poi has a sweeter taste to it compared to “sour” poi, which can be anywhere from three to 10 days old or even older. Many of the kupuna (elders) like their poi sour. So, sour that when you look at the bowl of poi sitting on the counter it usually has a hairy type of mold growing on it, which they “whip” right into the poi before eating it.
Some people say that poi is best eaten as a side dish accompanying a main dish like laulau or kalua pig, while others will tell you poi can be eaten with anything or simply just by itself. Some even sprinkle sugar over their poi to give it a sweeter taste, and others put some soy sauce over it. However, many will just eat it straight up and may even consider it a “crime” to add sugar or soy sauce to your poi.
Taro is found in almost every culture of the world and many other countries consume taro, but it is only in Hawaiian culture that you will find poi. In recent years, the lack of taro farming has resulted in shortages of poi, which has led to higher prices. Yet, it has also led to some innovative production of poi which stays fresh longer and taste sweeter, yet one must remember this usually means the price is going to be higher for these types of poi and it may require refrigeration.
For centuries, poi has been used as the first baby food and even as a milk substitute for babies. It is a gluten free food and one of the safest foods for those who cannot tolerate gluten and those that suffer from celiac disease. It is a low fat food that is high in complex carbohydrates and vitamin A.
If you’re still wondering about poi and whether or not you should try it…I say give it a shot! If you say it tastes like wallpaper paste…my question to you is how do you know what wallpaper paste tastes like?
This article is part of a weekly BigIslandNow.com series by KAPA Hawaiian FM personality Darde Gamayo.