Poi

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").

Most first-time tasters describe poi as resembling library paste, more an allusion to the texture than the flavor, which tends toward bland. It 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 first loses sweetness and then turns slightly sour. After several days (but no more than five) poi has a distinct sour taste, but is still quite edible with salted fish or lomi salmon on the side. However, some would reasonably argue it is inedible beyond five days. Sourness is prevented by freezing or freeze-drying, although the resulting poi tends to be bland in comparison with the fresh product.

The nutritious value of poi has seen significance outside of Polynesia as a substitute for milk for babies that are born with an allergy to the latter.



Maori Poi dance, by Manutuke School at Hopuhopu 2003
In New Zealand, the Maori mash the kalo by swinging bags of it at the end of strings. This gave rise to a form of dance for the women, which was an exercise to increase flexibility of the wrists and hands, and was also used by men to increase strength in the arms and coordination. Today, this dance is seeing a revival as poi swinging, a form of juggling, not unrelated to staff twirling. Poi swingers use everything from rolled-up socks to expensive devices with light-emitting diodes and combine swinging with body moves. This is sometimes called fire dancing, especially when the poi are made of wicks and set on fire.

More information on poi swinging can be found on the Home of Poi website.


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


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