The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Poi, the food

Poi is a Hawaiian word for the primary Polynesian food staple made from the stem (called a corm, a type of rhizome) of the kalo plant (known widely as taro). Poi is produced by mashing the cooked corm (baked or steamed) to a highly viscous fluid. Water is added during mashing and again just before eating, to achieve a desired consistency ("one-finger poi" is thicker than "three-finger poi").

The bowl of poi was considered so important and sacred a part of daily Hawaiian life that whenever a bowl of poi was uncovered at the family dinner table, it was believed that the spirit of Haloa, the ancestor of the Hawaiian people, was present. Because of that, all conflict among family members had to come to an immediate halt.

Most first-time tasters describe poi as resembling library paste —more an allusion to the texture than the flavor, which is delicate. Poi is an acquired taste, but quickly makes converts of those who persist. The flavor changes distinctly once the poi has been made. Fresh poi is sweet and excellent all by itself. Each day thereafter the poi loses sweetness and turns slightly sour. The speed of this fermentation process depends upon the bacteria level in the poi. The bacteria is harmless, and some would even say beneficial. To slow the souring process, poi should be stored in a cool, dark location (such as a kitchen cupboard). Poi stored in the refrigerator should be squeezed out of the bag into a bowl, and a thin layer of water drizzled over the top to keep a crust from forming.

Sour poi is still quite edible with salted fish or lomi salmon on the side. Some would reasonably argue that poi is inedible beyond five days. Sourness is prevented by freezing or dehydrating, although the resulting poi tends to be bland in comparison with the fresh product. For best thawing results place in a microwave with a layer of tap water over the surface of the frozen poi.

Sour poi is an excellent cooking ingredient, particularly in breads and rolls. It has a smooth, creamy "mouth feel," but no fat.

Poi has been used as a milk substitute for babies born with an allergy to dairy products, because of its nutritional value.

Poi should not be confused with Tahitian po'e, which is a sweet, pudding-like dish made with bananas, papaya, or mangoes cooked with manioc and coconut cream.

Poi, the juggling art

Māori Poi dance, by Manutuke School at Hopuhopu 2003
Māori Poi dance, by Manutuke School at Hopuhopu 2003

The Māori word "poi" means "ball." More specifically, this refers to a form of juggling with balls on ropes, held in the hands and swung in various circular patterns, similar to club-twirling. This was traditionally practiced by women an exercise to increase flexibility of the wrists and hands, and by men to increase strength in the arms and coordination. It developed into a traditional performance art practiced mostly by women.

Some say that originally it was less art & more utilitarian in that it was how the Poi food dish (see above) was traditionally prepared - by attaching the ball-like poi to rope and swinging it in circles to build momentum and then smashing on rocks or other hard surfaces.

Today, poi swinging is seeing much wider popularity. Poi swingers use everything from rolled-up socks to expensive devices with light-emitting diodes and combine swinging with body moves. This is fire dancing when the poi are made of wicks and set on fire.

External links

Poi is also the name of a project to read Microsoft Office documents using the Java platform. See Apache Jakarta POI.

Last updated: 05-07-2005 07:57:05
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04