Disclaimer: All information found on Mana Ai website contains information either found researching online or through actual experience. Please use this information to further your own education on kalo, but as always “ma ka hana, ka ike” in the doing of the work is the knowledge.
There are over 2,000 varieties of kalo (taro) worldwide (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taro). From the Nile River in Egypt to Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific (Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia) the kalo plant migrated with the people. At the time of Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778, there were approximately 300 – 400 varieties of kalo being farmed in Hawaii. Today we approximately 100 varieties, visit www.kupunakalo.com for additional information.
The Hawaiians migration could not have been made to the most isolated islands on planet earth without a food source that could last with out refrigeration. The Hawaiian genealogy begins with the birth of Haloanakalaukapalili, whom is stillborn and buried outside the house of Wakea and Hoohokukalani. From this spot grows the first Hawaiian kalo plant. The next child of Wakea and Hoohokukalani is Haloa, the first kanaka Hawaii (Hawaiian Native). For countless centuries Hawaiian people prospered through the constant and religious practice of Mālama Hāloa (caring of kalo). At the time of Western contact in 1778, a Native Hawaiian population of 300,000 – 1,000,000 produced at least 500,000,000 pounds of kalo per year. Modern archaeologists identify approximately 20,000 acres of kalo terraces in Hawaii. Writings of the earliest western voyagers, noted how Hawaiian kalo farming was most advanced they had seen and that flavor of the kalo far superior to what they had tasted.
Mary Kawena Pukui best describes the traditional recipe for poi using the method of her family from Kapuʻeuhi in Southern Hawaii. You can go to the Bishop Museum and look it up; here I will briefly summarize her description.
The ancestors would bake the kalo in an imu (underground cooking pit). While the cooking was going on the board (papa kuiai) and stone (pohaku kuiai) we washed and sunned. When the taro was cooked the family pitched in with the work. Children helped pull off the outer skin (ili kalo), this was called hoopohole. The peelers would then scrape it clean of every vestige of peeling or flaw with a “large opihi shell”. An adult usually did taro scraping so that the taro was perfectly clean. Not until the commercialization of poi did the practice of straining poi become necessary to ensure that the poi was clean. She uses the olelo noeau “Hana kapule ka lima, ai ino ka waha” or “careless work with the hands put dirty food in the mouth”. Pukui notes the different stages of corm maturity and that the “io” or starch of the kalo being the most sought after ingredient and that the ulika or gummy stage was tolerated in the poi, but they preferred to eat the ulika as table taro. Loliloli or overripe kalo was not used in poi making until the use of modern day poi machines.
The pounding of kalo is more a matter of knowing how not of strength. The first step being called “pakiki”, using the rim of the pohaku kuiai to gradually break up kalo in to smaller pieces. Then moistening the fingers to prevent sticking, the pounder began to “kui” the kalo pieces into a solid mass called “hui ka ai”. If it were to be carried away to a relative, in this state it would be neatly bundled using ti leaf – called paiai.
If for family use the next step is called “hoopuha”. The hand was dipped in water the bottom of the stone moistened with a quick pat before coming down on the mass. The moistening and turning of the mass continued until the work was done. The next process called “poho” or “kupele”, the pounder began to pour small amounts of water and to knead the mass like dough for bread. “Hoowali ai” is the part for mixing the poi. Water was added in small quantities so that is was completely absorbed or it could be “hakuhaku” lumpy. Working the poi so that it was forced between the fingers is called “opaopa”, the rotation of the hand while mixing “owai” and the working of the hand against the side of the container to break up any lumps is called “ko”. “Hana a pau pono ka wai” keep working until the water is entirely absorbed.
Pukui further reiterates the love of Hawaiian people for poi that had begun to ferment, forming air bubbles called “poha”.
Poi is hyper-allergenic, anti-bacterial, gluten free and very low in fat. There is lots of information online regarding health benefits and nutrition of kalo / poi. To date there has been no scientific research using the traditional recipe for poi. If you would like to do research or fund research using the traditional recipe, please contact us.
Here is the definition from the Hawaiian Language Dictionary, www.wehewehe.org :
n.1. Poi, the Hawaiian staff of life, made from cooked taro corms, or rarely breadfruit, pounded and thinned with water. Cf. kalo. Poi ʻili, portion of a taro between the center (hē) and the peel. Poi ʻawaʻawa, sour poi [an unpleasant disposition]. (PPN poʻoi, PCP po(po)i.)
Poi, ‘ai; kāpiki (inferior). See pounder and saying, welcome. Thin poi, ‘ai kakale. Lumpy poi, ‘ai pu‘upu‘u (fig., unsociable); ‘ai hakuhaku (due to mixing). Fresh poi, ‘ai hou; ‘aka‘akai (bulrush, so-called because fresh poi was not liked); miki pololei, pololei, polokē. Poi beginning to ferment, pohā ka ‘ai. Sour poi, poi ‘awa‘awa (fig., unpleasant disposition), kahania. Breadfruit poi, poi ‘ulu. Sweet-potato poi, pa‘i ‘uala, pa‘i ‘uwala, poi ‘uala, poi ‘uwala, ‘uala ho‘omalamala. Flour poi, poi palaoa. Pumpkin poi, poi pala‘ai. Poi cocktail, ‘ai kakale. Poi concoction, kūpele. Stages of poi pounding: pāku‘iku‘i, pākī, pākī‘ai, pili, hui ka ‘ai, ho‘opohā; poho, pele, kūpele; ho‘owali, moku. Poi-pounding board, papa ku‘i ‘ai. Poi mixer, lā‘au ho‘owali ‘ai. Unmixed poi, small package, pūkele‘ai. Hard, pounded, undiluted poi, pa‘i ‘ai. Ti-leaf bundle of hard poi, holo ‘ai. Watery residue on poi-pounding board, pīkale, kale ‘ai. Film of poi adhering to walls of the container, pala‘ai. To scrape poi from the sides of the bowl with the fingers, kahi. Single dip of poi, kī‘o‘e poi. To dip poi with fingers, miki; miki pākahi, miki pāpākahi (one finger); miki pāpālua (two fingers). To pound poi, ku‘i ‘ai, ku‘i poi; lua‘a.
Ai - ‘ai
nvt. Food or food plant, especially vegetable food as distinguished from i‘a, meat or fleshy food; often ‘ai refers specifically to poi; harvest (Oihk. 19.9); to eat, destroy or consume as by fire; to erode; to taste, bite, take a hook, grasp, hold on to; edible. Fig., to rule, reign, or enjoy the privileges and exercise the responsibilities of rule, and one who does so, as ‘ai ahupua‘a: to rule an ahupua‘a, the ruler of one; ‘ai‘āina: to own, control, and enjoy land; the owner of land; ‘ai ali‘i, ‘ai lani, and ‘ai li‘i, to enjoy the comforts and honors and exercise the responsibilities of being a chief; ‘ai ‘ili: to control an ‘ili land division, one who does control the ‘ili; ‘ai moku: to rule a district or island [moku], one who rules one. Cf. ‘aialo, ‘ai kanaka, ‘ai nui, ‘ai ‘oko‘a, ‘ai pa‘a, ‘ai pala maunu, ‘ai pilau, ‘ai ‘uha‘uha, ‘ai waiū. Various ways of eating may qualify ‘ai, as ‘ai, hele, ‘ai lau, and ‘ai noa, to eat freely and without observance of taboos (see also ‘ai kū); ‘ai kapu, to eat under taboo; ‘ai kau, to feed by dropping poi directly from the fingers into the mouth, especially to feed a favorite child this way; ‘ai maka, to eat raw; ‘ai pau, to eat all. Hiki ke ‘ai ‘ia, edible. ‘Ai ‘aha, to tie with sennit. Mōhai ‘ai (Oihk. 2.14), cereal offering. Pā‘ū ‘ai kaua (For. 4:53), sarong worn in battle. ‘A‘ohe kapu o ka‘u pā hula, he ‘ai kū, he ‘ai hele, there are no taboos in my hula troupe, eat standing, eat on the run. ‘A‘ohe‘ai ‘o ka ma‘i, the disease makes no advance. Kāna ‘ai, his food. Kona ‘ai, his eating. hō.‘ai To feed, give food to, board. (PPN kai.)