Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, August 5, 1998

Ue ka lani, ola ka honua
Ola ho'i Haloa ke kalo, ke kanaka e
(When the sky weeps, the Earth lives
Bringing life to Haloa, the taro, the man)

-- From "Ola I Ka Wai A Kane," a chant by Manu'aikohana Boyd, kumu hula of Halau o ke 'A'ali'i Ku Makani


By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

Poi Perfection

A tasting of the isles'
poi scoops up a winner

By Kekoa Catherine Enomoto


MAHINA Pukahi peered into each three-ounce plastic cup of poi. He assessed the content's color and sniffed it thoughtfully. He dipped two fingers into the cup, tasting deliberately, then scraping out the poi to the bottom.

"I ate it all," he would sheepishly say later.

Art Pukahi, 21, a taro grower from Waianae, was one of five judges in the Star-Bulletin's poi-tasting contest last week.

Each of the eight poi samples was numbered so the judges would not know which poi came from which label.

After all, "Preference is an individual thing," said cookbook author Tamar Pane'e, who also judged the poi. "If you are raised on a particular variety, it stays with you. You're partial to that taste."

When Pukahi was asked for the numbers of the top three poi he chose, he declared, "Five, five and five."

Five was The Poi Co. product, the one that received the most votes for the best poi. It was fresh, its color medium gray with a slightly grainy texture and a nutty flavor.

The poi tasting was prompted by the company's recent push to market its product. The company recently installed state-of-the-art poi-making equipment at its Kalihi headquarters.

The company's slick advertising proclaimed "a poi revolution." Indeed, The Poi Co.'s fresh poi was a hit.

Judges for the tasting were Pukahi, Pane'e, Lorraine Haili Alo of Haili's Hawaiian Foods, University of Hawaii taro specialist Jim Hollyer and Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning singer and composer Ku'uipo Kumukahi.

Judging criteria were aroma, color, flavor and texture, with flavor receiving priority. The judges scored on a "hedonic" basis, from 1 to 9, with 9 representing "like extremely"; 8 "like very much"; 7 "like moderately"; 6 "like slightly"; 5 "neither like nor dislike"; and 4 through 1 "dislike" with the same qualifiers as 6 through 9.

A myriad of variables can complicate such an event; for example, poi varieties at the tasting ranged from fresh to six days old:

The poi that placed second was a fresh batch of Logan's Poi of Hauula. Made of Keanae taro, it was gray, smooth and bland.

Third was two-day-old Nani Waipi'o poi of the Big Island. It was aromatic, light gray, slightly lumpy and sour but ono. It would be good for hard-core poi eaters to use as an accompaniment to limu-laced poke.

Other poi tested were:

bullet A day-old Haleiwa Poi product with a reddish-brown color, smooth texture and slightly sour smell and taste.

bullet A day-old Taro Brand with a medium dark gray color, a smooth texture, bland flavor and slight aftertaste.

bullet A four-day-old homemade Kahaluu poi with a subtle aroma, traditional purple-gray color, smooth texture and slightly bland/sour flavor.

bullet A six-day-old Makaweli Poi of Kauai, lightly gray, a bit grainy and slightly sour.

bullet A six-day-old Pu'ueo Poi of the Big Island with a lightly sweet-sour aroma, light gray color, very smooth texture and slightly sour flavor.

After an hour of tasting -- interspersed with sharp intakes of breath at the taste of week-old poi and occasional comments about taro-cleaning techniques and bacteria, The Poi Co. product emerged highest.

The Poi Co. -- it was called Ho'ai poi since 1992 and had a name change last year -- uses maoli lehua taro and Maui lehua taro, both grown on Kauai, said president Aimoku McClellan. He said he has researched and fine-tuned poi processing to obtain what he feels is a superior tasting product.

His vision is to do a "yogurt number" with poi -- turn a flavorless, slightly sour, healthful substance into a household word.

"We think the same thing can and should happen with poi. It's a Hawaiian thing. It might even be better for you than yogurt is. It's just a matter of time."

McClellan has been helped by a capital infusion from husband and wife business team, Craig and Marjorie Walsh. The men are 1966 grads from rival high schools -- McClellan from Kamehameha, Walsh from Punahou. They've transformed a two-story Kalihi house into a 3,000-square-foot factory, with all new equipment to be operating by the end of September.

Said McClellan, "We're not kidding. People think we're really nuts when we say, 'Poi to the world.' They wonder who in Utah or Missouri would eat poi.

"Don't sleep on this," he advised. "Poi is one of the healthiest things you can ever eat in life and it's a tremendous base for all kinds of things. There's so much you can do with it and we're going to. It will take time and investment, but I guarantee in 10 years poi will be all over the United States."

By Dean Sensui, Star-Bulletin
Ku'uipo Kumukahi samples one of the eight poi
varieties in a test to choose the best-tasting poi.

Things to do
with taro

bullet Taro Patch Party: Youth for Environmental Services hosts volunteers, all ages, weeding a triple-terraced lo'i (patch), 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Hawai'i Nature Center on Makiki Heights Drive. Call 957-0423.

bullet Growing Taro for Home Consumption: Luis Manrique teaches a two-hour class, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Lyon Arboretum classroom; $15.50. Call 988-7378.

bullet Kaua'i Taro Festival: Third biennial Ho'olaule'a, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 24 at Wai'oli Park, Hanalei; taro recipe contest, A Taste of Taro and educational sessions, Oct. 20 to 24. Call 826-6202 on Kauai.

bullet Poi Happens -- Sixth Annual Taro Days: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 14, Cook's Discoveries in Waimea, Big Island; free. Call 885-3633 on Big Island.

bullet East Maui Taro Festival: Spring 1999, at Hana, Maui; free. Call 248-8972 on Maui; see web site

bullet Pacific Islands Taro Festival: 11th annual fest, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 14, 1999, at Windward Community College; free. Call 235-7433.

bullet Taro books:
bullet "A Handbook of Kalo Basics for its Planting, Care, Preparation & Eating" by Eric Enos and Kersten Johnson of Ka'ala Farm, Taro Top Publication, 36-page softcover, 1995, $5. Call 696-4954.
bullet "Taro Varieties in Hawaii" by Leo Whitney, F.A.I. Bowers and M. Takahashi, University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources (CTAHR), 86-page softcover, 1939, $10 (send $13 check made to: RCUH, CTAHR Publications and Information Office, 3050 Maile Way, Gilmore Hall 119, Honolulu, HI 96822; call 956-7036).
bullet "Taro Mauka to Makai -- A Taro Production and Business Guide for Hawai'i Growers," CTAHR, 108-page softcover, 1997, $14 (send $18 check made to RCUH, to above address).

Recipes pick up power
with addition of poi

Poi -- that fragrant to sour-tasting glutinous substance perfectly offsets the succulence of fresh fish spiced with onion, limu, Hawaiian sea salt and lots of chile. No other staple does it as well -- not rice, not bread, not potatoes.

Moreover, Hawaiian legend says that poi was the font of humanity, and some maintain that poi is a source of life force.

Incorporate the glutinous Hawaiian staple into recipes for savory poi cakes, gourmet poi vinaigrette, creamy poi pudding and a poi-thickened stew.


Kanaka pipi stew
(Hawaiian beef stew)

2 to 3 pounds stew beef
Flour, about a cup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon drippings
1 to 2 cups peeled, seeded tomatoes (fresh, frozen or canned)
2 cups EACH chunks of raw carrots, raw onions, raw potatoes and peeled, boiled taro
2 teaspoons Hawaiian or kosher salt
1 to 2 cups poi

Salt and pepper the beef, then dredge in flour. Brown in oil or drippings in a deep, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 1 hour.

Add tomatoes, other vegetables and salt. Add more water, if necessary. Simmer 1 hour. Just before serving, stir in poi to thicken to desired consistency.

Serve hot over steamed rice. Pass Hawaiian chile-pepper water (tiny red-hot chiles steeped in boiling water) and trimmed green onions for those who like a little fire. Makes 16 (1-cup) servings.

bullet Approximate nutritional analysis per serving, with 1 cup total poi added: 290 calories, 18 g total fat, 7 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium. Per serving, with 2 cups total poi added: 300 calories.*


Savory poi cakes

The Poi Co.
1/2 cup minced onion
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1 cup EACH undiluted poi and plain mashed potatoes
2 rounded tablespoons flour
Salt to taste

Saute onion and parsley in butter. Blend in poi and potatoes; add flour and salt. Form mixture into small patties. Make a small indentation on top of each cake and put a dollop of butter in it. Bake on buttered baking sheet in 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until crisply golden.

For pupu (appetizers), deep-fry in 350-degree oil until golden brown. Serve immediately.

bullet Approximate nutritional analysis per serving, based on 6 cakes, with a total of 6 teaspoons butter and 2 teaspoons salt used: 200 calories, 12 g total fat, 7 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 590 mg sodium.*


Poi vinaigrette

Alan Wong's restaurant
1 cup tomato water (see note)
1/2 cup The Poi Co
. poi
1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar (or less if poi is aged)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon chile pepper water

Machine-blend poi and tomato water. Add remaining ingredients one at a time. Serve cold. Makes 8 (2-tablespoon) servings.

Note: Machine-puree really ripe tomatoes, then drain pulp in a coffee filter placed over a glass container; the drippings make tomato water.

bullet Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 75 calories, 7 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, no cholesterol, less than 5 mg sodium.*


Poi pudding

The Poi Co.
1/3 cup milk or heavy (whipping) cream
2 tablespoons brown sugar, molasses or honey (or to taste)
1/3 cup thin poi

To prepare for breakfast porridge: Heat milk or cream until bubbles form around the edge; stir in sweetener. Blend in poi and serve with buttered toast.

To prepare for a dessert: Softly whip the cream, and stir in sweetener and then poi. Serve cold. Variations: Add a splash of vanilla or other flavoring. Top with a little toasted coconut. Makes 1 serving.

bullet Approximate nutritional analysis per serving with milk: 240 calories, 3 g total fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 60 mg sodium. Per serving with cream: 460 calories, 29 g total fat, 18 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium.*

Where to get
the tested poi

bullet The Poi Co. product is available at Foodland, Sack N Save, Star and Times supermarkets and some independent markets such as Mel's, Tamashiro and Waianae Market.

bullet Nani Waipi'o is available at Haili's Hawaiian Foods at Ward Farmers Market.

bullet Pu'ueo Poi is available at 99 Ranch Market.

bullet Logan's Poi of Hauula is available at Kailua's East Side Fish & Okazuya.

bullet The other poi tested are usually available at many supermarkets, depending on supply.

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