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Ulu Poi

Ulu Poi

I spent Memorial Day weekend last month up on Maui attending a few family parties. At the baby’s first birthday luau (a Hawaii tradition!) at Kanaha Beach in Kahului (behind the airport), one of the dishes served was Ulu Poi. Ulu Poi? Hah? What kine ‘dat?

As you know, Ulu is the Samoan (and Hawaiian name as ‘Ulu) name for Breadfruit, a staple food (starch) in Polynesian culture, where at least I’m aware of more popular in Samoa than it has been in Hawaii, at least in more modern times. A common way Samoans prepare Ulu is by either steaming or boiling it, then simmering it in coconut milk, onions and sea salt. Very simple and healthy dish.

Breadfruit, a.k.a. Ulu

There’s no doubt – at least in my opinion – Kalo, the Hawaiian wet land taro has much more flavor and character than Ulu. And it’s also much more difficult to cultivate, due to the nature that it needs to grow in wetland soil, requiring a lot of water and manual labor. Hence obviously Hawaiian taro is relatively expensive, as is the poi that comes from it. So when I was told this “Poi” was made with Ulu, I was admittedly skeptical it would even remotely pass as a substitute for Poi made with Kalo.

Kalo (Hawaiian Wetland Taro root) – Photo courtesy of Leslie Lang

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Brah, you grew up in Hawaii, and you nevah’ went try Ulu Poi before? What ‘kine local boy you?” Well, sorry, I guess I haven’t been around enough Samoan culture and people here to have been introduced to it. Nothing personal, just the fact.

Well here I go trying Ulu Poi for the first time…

Ulu Poi

And? Well I’ll be a Lomi Lomi Lomi Lomi Salmon. It’s FANTASTIC! It tastes strikingly similar to Taro Poi! Seriously! The texture is also spot-on! Exactly the same as Taro Poi. I’d say 2 finger consistency. Very clean and neutral flavor like really fresh Poi, also being quite starchy and filling.

This, some Laulau, Squid Luau, Poke and Lomi Salmon, and you’re set! If you eat meat, hit da’ Kalua Pig, Chicken Long Rice and Pipikaula for da’ complete Ulu Poi Luau spread. Guaranz winnahz!

Lomi Salmon served at Seabury Hall graduation luau up in Makawao, Maui

I’m not sure what the shelf life and stability is of it, however if its feasible, HPC Poi Factory (Taro brand Poi) should consider packaging and selling Ulu Poi alongside their regular Poi. If they could sell it for half or maybe 2/3rd the price of Taro Poi, guaranteed Ulu Poi would sell well.

Next time someone offers you Ulu Poi, as long as they did it right, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how good and close it tastes to what you’re used to with Taro Poi. Ono!

Aloha Poi Factory Poi served at Seabury Hall graduation luau up in Makawao, Maui

While we’re on the subject of Poi and Maui, the brand sold on the valley isle is Aloha Poi Factory, which tastes pretty much like HPC’s Taro Brand Poi here on Oahu. I think the best tasting Poi is the Hanalei brand from Kauai, while it’s also the most expensive, ounce for ounce.

Aloha Poi Factory Poi at Takamiya Market in Happy Valley, Wailuku, Maui

As you can see, the going price for a 1 pound bag of Aloha Poi on Maui is $5.79, while a 4 pound bag is $21.99. In comparison, the current market price as of this writing at Costco for a 3 pound bag of Taro Brand Poi is $13.99.

A luau plate served at Seabury Hall graduation celebration up in Makawao, Maui: Poi, Kalua Pig, Teriyaki Chicken, Rice, Mahimahi with Lemon Caper Butter Sauce, Steamed Broccoli and Lomi Salmon… geeve ’em on da’ Lomi Salmon, ‘das how!

Have you ever tried Ulu Poi? Do you eat Ulu regularly? If so, how do you prepare it?

P.S. I’ll once again be one of the judges at today’s “Hogs Gone Wild” Up in Smoke Cook Off. It will be from 11:30am to 3:30pm at Cycle City on Nimitz Highway and Puuloa Road, adjacent to the Honolulu International Airport and Mapunapuna. Poi and pen in hand, of course! See you there!

P.P.S. Here’s a photo of the judging panel at today’s “Hogs Gone Wild” event at Cycle City….

Yours Truly is third from the right (near the center), wearing the blue long sleeve dress shirt with too many pens in the pocket (Don’t ask. I always dress like that for any place other than the beach. lol). I’ll name everyone later when I blog my coverage of this event.


16 thoughts on “Ulu Poi

  • June 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    I think Ulu poi is the same thing as FuFu. I’ve had the latter many times, good stuff.

    • June 15, 2013 at 6:51 pm


      I had to look up “FuFu”, where this Wikipedia article turned up:

      Because you grew up in Florida, I’m guessing the version of “FuFu” you’ve had was Carribean or Puerto Rican in origin, where it says this, “In the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the dish is described as mangú and mofongo, respectively. The difference between West African fufu and Caribbean “fufu” is noted in both the texture and the flavorings, Caribbean fufu and mofongo being less of a dough-like and more of a firm consistency. Another difference can be seen in mofongo, unlike Caribbean fufu and West African fufu the Puerto Rican mofongo is fried then mashed with broth, olive oil, and stuffed with meat (traditional chicharrón), vegetables, or seafood.”

      Fascinating. I’m curious now how many types of starchy root vegetables can be turned into an edible “paste” variation of the Hawaiian Poi. Plantain Poi, perhaps? Probably not, as it would be too glutenous. My guess, anyway.

      Thanks for sharing!

      P.S. And here I was all this time thinking “FuFu” was the name of a snobby person’s overly groomed Poodle. lol!!!

  • June 15, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Mofongo! Yum. Nothing like FuFu, in my experience… though I’ve only had breadfruit fufu. I imagine you could make Plantain Poi. Possibly Yuca or Malanga?

    When I was a kid, my family had a poodle, but we weren’t snobby, so his name was Max, rather than FuFu. Poor max, he had to suffer the indignity of being dressed up by my sister and I, and entered into the costumed animal contest at the county fair. Good times (probably not for Max though).

    • June 15, 2013 at 10:08 pm


      We had several family Poodles, actually, as my mom LOVES dogs. So do I. Our family Poodle when I was just a young boy was named Jolie. She was personally given to my mom from Mrs. Kaiser, wife of Henry J. Kaiser, the industrialist who developed Hawaii Kai. Jolie suffered really painful arthritis in her last years, when my dad had to finally put her to sleep. Needless to say, my mother was completely heartbroken upon her passing. As I was when Nainai recently passed away. Dogs’ lifespans are only about 15 years or so, give or take a few years, depending on the breed and its particular health condition. All-in-all, way too short when you become attached to them emotionally.

  • June 16, 2013 at 7:46 am

    In addition to kalo and ulu, Hawaiian also made poi out of sweet potato, uali, and yam.uhi. I am told both of these poi spoiled after 12 hours or so so they were made in lesser quantities and eaten right after words. I believe that with Hawaiians, the sweet potato was even more popular than ulu poi. BTW, did you know they pretty much determined that Hawaiian brought the chicken to Chile and came home with the sweet potato?

    • June 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Pat, well there’s this segment on Wikipedia on the subject of Polynesian Navigation, “A 2007 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of chicken bones, at El Arenal near the Arauco Peninsula, Arauco Province, Chile suggested Oceania-to-America contact. Chickens originated in southern Asia and the Araucana breed of Chile was thought to have been brought by Spaniards around 1500. However, the bones found in Chile were radiocarbon-dated to between 1304 and 1424, well before the documented arrival of the Spanish. DNA sequences taken were exact matches to those of chickens from the same period in American Samoa and Tonga, both over 5000 miles (8000 kilometers) away from Chile. The genetic sequences were also similar to those found in Hawaiʻi and Easter Island, the closest island at only 2500 miles (4000 kilometers), and unlike any breed of European chicken.[10][11][12] Although this initial report suggested a Polynesian pre-Columbian origin a later report looking at the same specimens concluded:”

      It then goes on conflicting, “A published report claims apparently pre-Columbian, Chilean specimen and six pre-European Polynesian specimens also cluster with the same European/Indian subcontinental/Southeast Asian sequences, providing no support for a Polynesian introduction of chickens to South America. In contrast, sequences from two archaeological sites on Easter Island group with an uncommon haplogroup from Indonesia, Japan, and China and may represent a genetic signature of an early Polynesian dispersal. Modeling of the potential marine carbon contribution to the Chilean archaeological specimen casts further doubt on claims for pre-Columbian chickens, and definitive proof will require further analyses of ancient DNA sequences and radiocarbon and stable isotope data from archaeological excavations within both Chile and Polynesia.”

      Hmmm, sounds like there’s only scientific evidence through DNA samples of chicken bones. Unless you know a source better than that has more historical records vs. scientific findings.

      From a navigational mariners standpoint, I find it quite hard to believe the early Polynesians (Hawaiians?) could have made it that far across the Pacific to South America and back to the central and south east Pacific in the size of canoes they had at the time. Getting from Tahiti to Hawaii is one thing. But across the entire Pacific? If they did, hats off to them (or malo)! Or, perhaps the greatest early sailors of the world, the Portuguese may have brought and traded those foods from Polynesia, Asia and the Americas, and it just hasn’t been documented. Of course someone like Nainoa Thompson would smack me upside the head for even saying that. lol!!!

      I’m now interested in trying that Sweet Potato Poi you mentioned. Or perhaps trying a “Combo” Poi that’s made with Ulu, Uali, Uhi and Kalo. Wow!

      • June 16, 2013 at 9:57 pm

        “Polynesian contact with the prehispanic Mapuche culture in central-south Chile has been suggested because of apparently similar cultural traits, including words like toki (stone axes and adzes), hand clubs similar to the Māori wahaika, the sewn-plank canoe as used on Chiloe island, the curanto earth oven (Polynesian umu) common in southern Chile, fishing techniques such as stone wall enclosures, a hockey-like game, and other potential parallels. Some strong westerlies and El Niño wind blow directly from central-east Polynesia to the Mapuche region, between Concepcion and Chiloe.”…
        “The sweet potato was also grown before western exploration in Polynesia. Sweet potato has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000 AD, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia around 700 AD, possibly by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, and spread across Polynesia to Hawaii and New Zealand from there.[9][10] It is possible, however, that South Americans brought it to the Pacific, although this is unlikely as it was the Polynesians who had a strong maritime tradition and not the native South Americans. The theory that the plant could spread by floating seeds across the ocean is not supported by evidence. Another point is that the sweet potato in Polynesia is the cultivated Ipomoea batatas, which is generally spread by vine cuttings and not by seeds.[11]”

        The similarity in words is often commented upon, but I also note that the Hawaiian name for Sweet Potato is similar to the name for yam or breadfruit. The former having a variant. The yam name ‘uhi’ is common throughout the Pacific in various pronunciation. The yam came from Africa. And even Filipinos and Malays have a similar name ‘ubi’. Modern pronunciations are always suspect because the adoption of spelling significantly changes pronunciation and serves to eliminate subtleties. As for the Maori, a Maori war club was discovered in an Incan tomb. That meeting may not have gotten off to a good start.But the Maori were…different. Not having chickens(polynesian:”moa”), Maori named the Moa after the same. A 9′ tall nightmare of a bird. Now that is humor.

        • June 17, 2013 at 7:42 am


          I went over a book written by a linguistics professor from U.H. on the language of Polynesia. In that, it was explained all the similarities and differences based on geographical location throughout the Pacific. More so the similarities, particularly among the Maori, Tahitians, Samoans, and of course Hawaiians.

          Then there’s the Europeans, where while very different, can be tied together with Latin roots.

          Which makes the various asian ethnicities such as Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and of course Chinese that much more fascinating, in that their languages hardly if at all have any resemblance to one another. Plus, on top of that, there’s regional dialects! Strange. Ancient Aliens, perhaps? They’re very smart, so you have to consider!

          • June 17, 2013 at 9:17 am

            While the spoken languages are very different, Japanese and Chinese both use similar ideograms (kanji in Japanese). Also remember that even within European countries, there are dialects and even discreet languages. In Portugal, there are the Basques, who speak their own language, not Portugese. There are people in France who speak a form of Gaelic; the Swiss and Belgians have their own languages which are different from their “official” languages of French and/or German. Liguistic diversity is everwhere, even within a single state: My wife, who was raised in Northern Virginia near Washington DC, has almost no accent, but her cousins 100 miles away in Richmond have a very distinct and deep southern accent which is also different from the southern accents of her cousins just over the border in North Carolina.

          • June 17, 2013 at 12:54 pm


            Regarding the asian languages, I meant to specify the SPOKEN language, not the written, as you can certainly see similarities there, just as there is with the Middle Eastern written language. Speaking of which, I find Russia particularly an oddity, being how seemingly European they are both in physical appearance and linguistics. Yet geographically they’re located next to China! Yet as far as I can see, there’s hardly any influence in their culture from the Chinese. Unless you stand me corrected on that. I haven’t studied much on Russian history, so wouldn’t know.

            Speaking of the sphere of influence in asia, as you know Japan had closed ports called “Sakoku” as their “foreign policy from 1633 to 1853. During this time no foreigners were allowed to enter or trade with Japan, nor were Japanese allowed to leave the country. This surely had a huge impact on their culture, and is likely why to this day Japanese are very disciplined…. a good thing for the most part, yet in some cases can lead to prejudice of foreigners, even to this day.

            While the Ryuku islands of Okinawa — once under its own ruling Kingdom — is currently under Japan rule, their traditional cultural influences are said to be more so from China than Japan. Of course the traditional Okinawan language is entirely different than Japanese, yet they speak both.

            Speaking of your wife being from Virginia, the southern accent is another interesting evolution that I’m initially assuming must have come from the various dialects that melded together from the Irish, Scottish and English settlers in America.

            Then there’s the influence from the Africans with “Ebonics” on the southern dialect, it gets even more complex.

  • June 17, 2013 at 3:24 am

    mai; I would urge you to look for , and read, “1421, the year China” discovered America, by Gavin Menzies. It is rather long, but quite interesting!It may answer some of those pondering questions!

    • June 17, 2013 at 7:26 am


      Upon skimming over the initial reviews of “1421: The Year China Discovered America“, while many were favorable, there were also quite a few that noted it’s filled with assumptions and conjectures, not facts. The frequent use of “They must have….” or “It’s obvious that….” filled throughout.

      Still, “1421” sounds like an enlightening read, especially from a “foodie” standpoint, while I’d also like to do more research on the history of polynesian navigation. I’m also really interested in learning more about the maritime history of the Portuguese, my predominant ethnic heritage (half).

  • June 17, 2013 at 6:02 am

    The South American-Polynesian connection is provocative as the archaeology suggests. Whether it was SA to Polynesia or vice versa, I find it amusing that “Big Science” routinely questions the abilities of ancient people to breach huge barriers to explore other continents. Even you, Pomai, doubt the navigational skills of the ancient polynesians… doesn’t the fact that they populated places like Hawaii and Easter Island that are thousands of miles of open ocean away from their homelands? Given those two bases of operations, a couple of thousand mile second leg isn’t impossible. Plus, a return voyage from SA to polynesia was possible shown by Thor Heyerdahl’s voyage on Kon Tiki. Ancient peoples have always found a way… Imagine how the Australian aborigines got there when they have no sailing culture? But no one is disputing that they did get there on their own. Alien intervention aside, the ancients were able to do a lot of stuff with stone tools that we “modern” folks can’t duplicate with our high tech.

    • June 17, 2013 at 7:10 am

      Keith said, “Alien intervention aside, the ancients were able to do a lot of stuff with stone tools that we “modern” folks can’t duplicate with our high tech.”.

      Hmmmm. So you’re another fan of the “Ancient Aliens” TV program, I assume. While I have yet to watch that show, I do believe throughout our history, humans have been guided by higher powers. Whether that be spiritual (God) or extraterrestrial (“Aliens”), I really believe the advancement of humans is beyond what logic and science would deem historical, biological and geographical evolution.

      The most peculiar being the industrial revolution, introducing all the modern wonders of transportation, including mass transit, the automobile, aircraft and space travel. To of course medical milestones and communications with the digital age.

      Peculiar, meaning, why is it humans have made such strides in technology in such a relatively short period of time of our entire existence? Less than a few centuries ago, we were getting around in wooden ships, canoes and on horseback, and barely lived past the age of 50 due to the lack of medical knowledge and treatment.

      Suddenly, we’re knocking on Mars door step, air travel around the globe is just a plane ticket away, learning is just a mouse-click away, and regardless of diet anomalies, we can now beat biological odds and live close to 100 years old.

      There’s a lot more going on than we know it.

      • June 17, 2013 at 9:03 am

        No kidding about the speed of our technological advancement, but that’s the nature of human cultural development. Just think how many hundreds of thousands of years humans existed in thousands of pockets and tribes unconnected from each other, each developing their own technology… just to survive being food for other critters… then, we start bumping into each other; the classic example is the Neanderthals and Modern Humans. At first it was believed that Modern Humans with their advanced technology eliminated the Neanderthals. But what has just been discovered is that the Neanderthal genes are in a large portion of the human population making the case that they were assimilated rather than exterminated. History is full of the consequences of a more technologically advanced civilization meeting a more primitive one, with a major result being a transfer of the technology. What is amazing is the cyclical speed that that technology transfer occurs, faster and faster every time it happens. It took less and less time for the use of bronze, iron and steel tools/weapons to spread or for Europeans to adopt gunpowder from the Chinese. The American Indians were quick to leverage the power of firearms and steel. The thing that powers this rate of advancement is the increasing leverage of combined human intellect to use the knowledge. Interstingly, along with the technology, food also crossed geographic barriers. There were no tomatoes, potatoes or corn in Europe before Columbus. One only has to look at the cuisine of Hawaii to see what can happen in just 200 years of international cultural contact. What’s going on is that the most intelligent species on Earth is thinking on a much broader basis than ever before.


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