Poi: This Could be the World’s Healthiest Staple Food

Tuesday Jan 3, 2017 | BY |
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How I finally learned to love the “gooey tasteless glue” Hawaiian staple known as poi!

How I finally learned to love the “gooey tasteless glue” Hawaiian staple known as poi!

Each country has its staple food. Those staples were so important that their lack caused famines. For the Irish, it was the potato, without which one million people died during the Great Irish Potato Famine.

For many Asian populations, the life-giving staple is rice. So much so that a standard greeting in Mandarin Chinese roughly translates as “have you had any rice today?” My Mandarin is a little rusty, but I do remember that the word for “rice” and “food” is the same.

We could go on about other starchy staple foods in different parts of the world. Each has their unique qualities and sometimes faults.

One unique starchy staple food is the food known in Hawaii as poi.

It is different because it’s looks and tastes like baby food, and rarely finds friends among the tourists who try it.

Let’s describe poi a little more.

It’s nearly a paste. It’s purplish in color. It’s made from the taro plant.  The taro is peeled and mashed, water is added, and the result is slightly fermented. It doesn’t contain anything but taro and water.

Its taste? Most tourists think what precisely makes it gross is it has no taste. The Hawaiians don’t even add any salt or seasonings to it. You’re supposed to enjoy your poi plain.

The first encounter with poi is usually at a Hawaiian luau. A sort of evening for tourists involving traditional Hawaiian dancing, story telling and a buffet orgy of the Hawaiian greatest hits.

Like millions of tourists, I first tried poi at a Luau and also thought, “Well, this doesn’t taste like much.”

But after many trips to Hawaii, poi grew on me. On the last trip, I started to LOVE it. For real.

First, the taste. I like it best when no more than a few days old. Then it tastes strangely fatty but contains no fat. Chew on it and let it turn a bit sweet before you swallow it. It’s soothing.

Kids love poi, much more naturally than they love rice or beans. It is loved by anyone who has known it from childhood. But like with any new food, it requires trying it several times before actually enjoying it. Maybe seven times? A good excuse to go back to Hawaii!

The Nutritional Powerhouse of Poi

I wish I could say that poi is a superfood. But it’s not. On paper, it doesn’t look like much: mostly carbohydrates, not much protein, lots of potassium, low sodium, some calcium and vitamin B.

But what’s strangely powerful about poi is not what it contains but rather how well the human body seems to digests and assimilate its nutrients.

In James Michener landmark novel “Hawaii” – Poi is described as being:

 “More easily digested than potatoes, more nourishing than rice; an infant of two weeks could eat poi with safety, while an old man whose stomach riddled with ulcers could enjoy it with relish.”

Poi has been used by people recovering from life-threatening digestive illnesses. It could well be the easiest food in the world to digest!

Pamela Noeau describes how she used poi to help her daughter recover from the failure-to-thrive syndrome.

I tried many kinds of foods–raw goat and cow milk, rice milk, nut milk, squash milk and many more, yet after ingestion of each of these foods my baby would quit breathing. She was soon diagnosed as failure-to-thrive. She cried constantly and rarely slept. Finally, after going from 8 pounds at birth to 5 pounds in three weeks, I remembered poi and the claim that it is a nutritious, life-giving and hypoallergenic food. I had poi air-shipped from Hawaii to California, thinned it with pure water and put it in a baby bottle for her to drink.

She finished one bottle and cried for more. After three bottles of poi, she fell into a sound sleep. She never stopped breathing again and began to steadily gain weight and to thrive. I was also amazed that as long as my baby had poi before or after breastfeeding, that she would have little problem with mucus or distress.

As she got older and required other foods, I began to mix poi with fruits and vegetables to create “poi pudding blends.” Even after several years, if my child would ingest food without poi included in the mix, she would have severe reactions such as fever, excessive mucus and would even go unconscious at times. My daughter lived on poi blends exclusively for four years and had needed poi on a daily basis to remain healthy and symptom-free for eleven years since. She is now a healthy and vibrant fifteen-year-old, free from all digestive disorders and associated problems.

I noticed myself that after eating one to 1 1/2 cups of poi, I felt full for hours and completely satisfied, with no cravings for other foods. A cup of poi contains only 269 calories.

Poi could be of particular value for anyone with the following conditions:

  • Diarrhea
  • Gastroenteritis
  • IBS
  •  Going through cancer treatments
  •  Inflammatory conditions
  • Auto-immune diseases

It’s probably the world’s most easily digestible and most hypoallergenic food. Even more so than fruit, which usually contains acids that some sick people can’t tolerate.

Another benefit: poi does not cause cavities, unlike some grains and fruits (if you’re not careful). The Hawaiian had perfect teeth when the Europeans “discovered” them.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that poi will be popular anytime soon, due to its unusual taste for our Western palates. But perhaps we could find ways to incorporate it into other food and eventually turn it into the latest health craze.

Where to Find Poi

I haven’t found poi anywhere outside of Hawaii. Raw taro can be found in many ethnic stores in North American cities. But I have not yet tried to make poi at home. I will experiment with it next year and let you know about the results. You can find “powdered poi” online. Check it out here. Some companies also ship frozen poi, but it’s much more expensive.

If you’ve tried poi before and didn’t like it, don’t give up! It could well be the world’s healthiest staple food.

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Kanoe says:

    Just a warning, poi is part of the latex family and must be boiled first before pounding, mixing and adding water to achieve the pudding consistency. Failure to boil the poi first will cause a “needle like” sensation in the throat and maybe more severe reactions. Store bought poi or dehydrated poi will not cause this reaction.

    I have eaten poi all my life and love the flavor of fresh poi. Since it is fairly bland but fermented in taste, I usually eat poi with fish or meat for a taste contrast. Poi is a living food and each day will change in it’s taste and consistency. Many older Hawaiians love the sour flavor of week old poi…indeed an acquired taste. Don’t like it too much though, I want more for myself!!!

  2. I love this article 😀 Truth abounds. Lucky for me, here in Utah- we can sometimes find it frozen in ethnic food stores, especially of the Polynesian (Samoan, Tongan, etc) variety! I’ve seen it frozen in Las Vegas, NV as well. We just have it shipped in when we crave it.

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