6 Little Known Facts About Hawai`i's Food
Over the last few years, Hawai`i’s cuisine has made a big splash on the Mainland. Poke, shave ice, malasadas, and more are making appearances on menus from San Francisco to New York. It’s no wonder - we have some of the best food in the world! It’s often misunderstood, though, so we wanted to share some facts about what Hawai`i’s food really is.
The first Hawaiians brought their food with them. The Polynesian voyagers who settled these islands came prepared; in their canoes they brought about two dozen plants, many of them food plants. These “canoe crops” included kalo (taro), `ulu (breadfruit), niu (coconut), mai`a (banana), `uala (sweet potato), and kо̄ (sugarcane). They also brought medicinal plants, including ‘olena (turmeric) and our favorite, noni!
Many foods associated with Hawai`i are not native. Pineapples, mangoes, macadamia nuts, and coffee all have their origins elsewhere, and were introduced to Hawaii only within the last couple of centuries. While they do grow well here, they are not originally from here.
Poi is magic. Poi, the starchy staple made from steamed and pounded taro, is pretty amazing. It’s high in fiber (three times as much as potato), gluten-free, and allergen-free. Taro can be grown locally, and once made into poi, it can be kept at room temperature for long periods of time. And best of all, it’s `ono (delicious).
Hawai`i was once completely self sufficient in its food supply. This was made possible by two things: one, a diet consisting entirely of foods that thrived in the islands, and two, the land management system called ahupua`a - a means of dividing land into wedges that radiated from mountaintop to ocean. Each ahupua`a was treated as a self contained system and managed to provide a steady supply of nourishment for those who lived in it.
Nowadays, most of our food comes from somewhere else. It’s said that 85-90% of our island’s food supply is imported from the US mainland or further abroad. Call it a combination of economies of scale, competition for limited agricultural land in Hawaii, and the high cost of doing business in Hawai`i.
The best way to support local food is to buy and eat it! Hawai`i boasts more than 50 farmers markets each week; that means no matter where you are in the islands, it’s pretty easy to buy local produce directly from the growers. For a well-curated list of markets that sell local produce, check out the Edible Hawaiian Islands farm guide.
These six facts also help explain why supporting local agriculture is so important to us at Hawaiian Ola…so much so that we made it our mission! Read more here.