14 Poi to the World

Step out­side of your com­fort zone and ex­plore an an­cient Hawai­ian su­per food.

Where Maui - - Contents -

While on Maui, be sure to try the del­i­cately fla­vored poi—the pale pur­ple paste that re­sults from pound­ing the kalo, or revered taro plant.

”Learn­ing to love the fla­vor, though, pays off. Poi is one of the health­i­est foods you can eat.”

There are sev­eral foods unique to Hawaii that all vis­i­tors should try. One of them is poi—the pale pur­ple paste that re­sults from pound­ing the kalo, or revered taro plant.

A root veg­etable, taro is most of­ten seen grow­ing in large pad­dies, with sturdy stems stand­ing two to three feet tall and sup­port­ing large, heart-shaped leaves. It’s what many is­land res­i­dents on Maui grow in their own backyards. While ev­ery other starch is im­ported into the Hawaii is­lands, only taro is grown lo­cally.

Ev­ery part of the taro plant has a use: The root is pounded into poi; leaves are wrapped around pork, fish or chicken and steamed to make a fla­vor­ful dish called lau lau; stems are used to fla­vor stews. En­tire civ­i­liza­tions through­out the Pa­cific thrived on this food source, which is said to be one of the ear­li­est cul­ti­vated plants in his­tory. One can­not over­state the im­por­tance of taro in Na­tive Hawai­ian cul­ture: The oral his­to­ries (mo’olelo) say that the first Hawai­ian, Haloa, orig­i­nated from the taro plant. Lit­er­ally mean­ing “long stalk,”“long breath” and “long life,” Haloa is wor­shipped with chant­ing, hula and fes­ti­vals.

De­spite its del­i­cate fla­vor, poi can be an ac­quired taste—it is bland, and some don’t ap­pre­ci­ate its paste-like tex­ture. Even food­fear­less An­drew Zim­mern, star of the Travel Chan­nel’s “Bizarre Foods,” didn’t care for poi when try­ing it for the first time. But learn­ing to love the fla­vor, though, pays off. Poi is one of the health­i­est foods you can eat. Dr. Terry Shin­tai, au­thor of the hit nu­tri­tion book “Eat More, Weigh Less,” con­curs. He extols the many de­light­ful qual­i­ties of poi as a nat­u­ral, whole food.

There are count­less ex­am­ples of poi sav­ing the di­etary day: Ba­bies al­ler­gic to milk, for in­stance, of­ten take poi quite well. Many lo­cals start to feed their ba­bies poi at a very young age be­liev­ing that it helps them sleep soundly through the night. Poi is also used by out­rig­ger ca­noe pad­dlers to carbo-load, Hawai­ian-style, be­fore a long-dis­tance race.

Shin­tani stud­ied the ef­fects of eat­ing a poi-rich an­cient Hawai­ian diet. Sub­jects re­placed bread, pasta and pota­toes (all starches), for poi and sweet pota­toes. Their find­ings were shock­ing: Choles­terol lev­els dropped by 14.1 per­cent and an av­er­age 17 pounds was shed.

But the health fac­tors aren’t the only rea­son to try it. Lo­cals cher­ish poi as a gift from early Hawai­ians. While you’re here, we in­vite you to do the same.

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