Hawaiian Ingredients: A Guide to Local Culture

A lot can be learned about a destination and its culture simply by examining the flora thriving within it and how residents incorporate much of it into their everyday lives.  The Hawaiian Islands are no different.  There are indeed many Hawaii-grown ingredients that, for those in the know, are identifiably indicative of the local culture.  Incorporated into everything from delectable culinary creations to health-beneficial products, the Hawaii-grown ingredients below are much used and much loved by local residents, and just might make fans of you too!


Known as awapuhi in the Hawaiian language, the ginger plant’s significance in the local culture is manifold, ranging from the many culinary uses of its root to the stringing of its fragrant blossoms in lei.  Show your aloha spirit upon your arrival with a feathered ginger lei available at most airport lei stands including Lin’s Lei Stand on the island of Hawaii.  Try the local Chinese-inspired treat ginger candy, and experience its mouthwatering bite, at mom-and-pop preserved-sweet shops statewide, such as Kay’s Crackseed at Manoa Marketplace on Oahu.  Or quench your thirst with a can of Maui Brewing Co’s Island Ginger Beer, crafted with locally sourced cane sugar, honey, and of course fresh ginger.


Coffee is commercially grown in Hawaii on five islands.  Sample the international-award-winning coffee grown and roasted in the island of Hawaii’s southeast Kau district, including java from Kau Coffee Mill, which offers a free farm tour daily.  On Kauai, explore Kauai Coffee’s vast coffee farm, the largest in the United States, via open-air truck and learn about its bean-to-cup growing and roasting process.  Views restaurant at the Manele Golf Course on Lanai sates sweet coffee cravings with its Wake Me Up Coconut, a concoction combining coconut sorbet and a double shot of espresso.  And experience coffee’s rejuvenating properties with a body-relaxing Kona Coffee Scrub at the island of Hawaii resort Fairmont Orchid’s Spa without walls


More commonly known in the Hawaiian Islands as lilikoi, the tangy tropical fruit has worked its way from the vine into a profusion of inspired local dishes.  Foodies seeking new, exciting adventures in flavor will want to sample the taste of sweet, tart lilikoi among the smoky, savory barbecue sauces for grilled eats at Kiawe Roots on Kauai.  To taste passionfruit at its local sweetest, on Oahu head to Senia for the restaurant’s lilikoi souffle cheesecake.  On the island of Hawaii, the from-scratch graham cracker crust and fresh passionfruit worked into Foster’s Kitchen’s lilikoi cheesecake sends diner taste buds to new heights in passionfruit flavor.  Thirsty?  Imagined by its Maui-resident bartenders, Vana Paia restaurant’s High Tide cocktail combines lilikoi, pineapple, and a base of Martinique-crafted rum for fresh, bright flavor.


Called kalo in the Hawaiian language, taro is the main of two ingredients – the other being water – used to make one of Hawaii’s most well-known local delicacies, poi!  As Native Hawaiians believe a kinship exists between people and the natural world, kalo and its cultivation practices have been valued and perpetuated in Hawaii for generation upon generation.  If you wish to immerse in traditional Hawaiian culture and farming practices, nonprofit cultural organizations Hookuaaina and Hooulu Aina offer volunteer opportunities to plant and care for kalo, and learn about its origins and significance to Hawaiian culture.  On Kauai, Hanalei Taro and Juice Co offers tours of its Hanalei Valley taro farm on which guests can watch how kalo corm is pounded into poi.  On Maui, order Lineage restaurant’s exquisite take on the Hawaiian cuisine favorite squid luau, combining creamed taro leaf with charred squid and coconut candy.