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Poi: A Brief History of the Polynesian Staple Food

February 3, 2011, 3:26 PM HST · Updated February 3, 3:26 PM
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By Erica Garza

Try poi in Hawaii, a sacred paste made from the taro plant.

You might come across poi in Hawaii at an island luau or some other traditional Hawaiian feast, but before you pass up the mysterious paste, consider its sacred history.

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Made from the corm of the taro plant, poi is made by smashing the cooked corm and adding water to it so it becomes a thick, sticky paste-like purple substance. Though fresh poi is naturally sweet, as days pass it loses its sweetness and turns lightly sour. Because of this fact, many people add sugar or other sweeteners to the paste, which can be consumed for breakfast, on bread or rolls, or even paired with fish as one of many traditional foods in Hawaii.

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The Polynesians once brought the taro plant to Hawaii as long ago as 450 A.D. It is one of the oldest cultivated crops throughout the islands and associated with the god Kane, life giver, creator of water and the sun. Since poi was made from this crop, it became an important and sacred part of daily Hawaiian life. When poi was on the dinner table, people were not allowed to argue or speak in anger in respect of its sacredness.

Numerous health benefits have been swirling around the consumption of poi, likening the substance to a miracle food for its stimulation of weight loss. It has also been credited to lowering cholesterol, is low in fat and protein, and is a great source of calcium and vitamin B.

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