Hawaii’s cuisine is composed of distinct styles of food which come from the history of both how the islands were settled, as well as immigration. The dishes reflect influences from European, American, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Puerto Rican, and Portuguese cultures, as well as their roots in Polynesia. Aloha Vacation Villas in Kapalua Bay helps you to plan your perfect trip by providing information and tips so that you can get the most from your Maui vacation. Today we will look at some of the most unique regional foods that you must try on your next visit. Be sure to call us today to reserve your spot at one of our beautiful rentals!

Main Ingredients

Some of the ingredients that are spotlighted in Hawaiian cuisine are unique not only to the dishes they help to flavor, but even in their other, non-edible uses. The primary ingredients that you will see you used in many creative ways are taro, breadfruit, candle nut, coconut, Polynesian arrowroot, Ti, Winged bean, and Jicama.

Taro

Taro is a popular plant that can be used to make poi, as well as taro starch or flour. Poi is a Hawaiian staple made from ground taro and commonly served with kalua roast pork. It has a paste-like consistency that is sweet in flavor. Consumption of taro is primarily the leaves and corm. It must be cooked, however, because it is toxic in its raw form. In addition to being edible, it is also sometimes sold as an ornamental aquatic plant.

Breadfruit

Breadfruit is actually a species of flowering tree. Its name comes from the texture of the moderately ripe fruit when it is cooked, which is similar to freshly baked bread and has a potato-like flavor. A common way that it is prepared is for it to be mixed with coconut milk and baked in banana leaves. The wood of the breadfruit tree is lightweight and resistant to termites and shipworms, which makes it perfect for use in constructing outrigger canoes. The pulp from the wood can also be used to make paper.

Candle Nut

While you may not be familiar with the name, you are probably more familiar with its more common name, Kukui. The nuts come from the kukui nut tree. The name candle nut is well earned, as they can be burned to provide light. Each nut will actually burn for about 15 minutes. The Hawaiians would make leis from the shells, flowers, and leaves of the tree. The ink from charred nuts was used in tattoos and a varnish could be made from the oil. They are also the main ingredient in a traditional Hawaiian condiment known as ‘inamona. ‘Inamona is used in Hawaiian dishes such as poke and occasionally in sushi.

Coconut

Coconuts have traveled around the world and even been immortalized in songs. Few people are still strangers as to what the coconut is, or how it is enjoyed. Since we are writing about Hawaiian foods, let us share with you how it used in this region of the world. One of the most common dishes in Hawaiian cuisine is coconut pudding which is call haupia and is a staple at every luau. The seeds of the coconut tree provide oil for frying, while the white fleshy part can be used to cook delicious desserts such as macaroons. 

Polynesian Arrowroot

Polynesian Arrowroot is part of the yam family. The tubers contain starch which in Polynesian culture, is typically prepared into a flour to make a variety of puddings. The flour is mixed with mashed taro, or breadfruit and then mixed with coconut cream to prepare the puddings. A local favorite in Hawaii is haupia. The starch can also be used to stiffen fabrics, which is important when weaving those fabrics together to create mats.

Ti

Not to be confused with tea plant, the Ti plant is actually part of the asparagus family. Its starchy rhizomes are actually very sweet once the plant has reached maturity. In Hawaii, the rhizomes are fermented and distilled to make a liquor called okolehao. The ancient Hawaiians believed that it had great spiritual power and only the high priests or chiefs were allowed to wear the leaves around their necks during certain rituals. The leaves would also be planted at the corners of homes to ward off ghosts or evil spirits.

Winged Bean

The winged bean loves to grow where it is hot and humid, making Hawaii a perfect place for it to thrive. Its leaves can be eaten just like spinach, and its flowers can be used in salads. In fact, if you do not have spinach, there’s no need to run to the store as you can simply use cooked winged bean leaves in the same way you’d use spinach leaves. If you are using the leaves raw, then younger leaves would better than older.

Jicama

Jicama was brought over to Hawaii from Spanish colonialists. It is sometimes called a Mexican yam bean, or a Mexican turnip, but it actually belongs to the bean family. Hawaiian cuisine embraced this food and you can find it in a number of dishes. Due to its consistency, when cut into matchstick slices, it will provide a water chestnut-like crunch and possess a savory apple flavor. Jicama can be used in salads, soups, and stir-fry dishes. The seeds of the jicama actually contain a toxin which is used to poison insects and fish.

It is always interesting to learn about foods that have become such an integral part of our island nation’s culture. We hope that you learned some new and interesting facts about these foods and are looking forward to trying them in some of our native dishes when you visit Kapalua Bay in Maui. Make sure to check back on our blog where we will look at popular regional dishes. Aloha Vacation Villas wants to help you plan your perfect vacation. Call and reserve your spot today!