Sunday, August 9, 2015

Poi and Mochi - Gluten- free Staples from the Hawaiian Islands

My last post was about Fr. Joseph Dutton who spent half of his life on the island of Molokai caring for the lepers quarantined by the Hawaiian government. The life he left in the United States reflected abundance in stark contrast to the meager food supplies the island of Molokai and the Hawaiian government provided the lepers. Here is a picture of poi the stem of the taro plant which was native to the islands. A staple in the lepers' diet, it became one in Dutton's. Today poi is not found in abundance in Hawaii as it once was. In fact, ironically it is an expensive item at Hawaii's pricey supermarkets.

Lepers could eat poi raw. It is a sweet and a delectable tasting vegetable, or they could cook the stems like we cook potatoes, turnips or rutabagas and mash them when they were thoroughly cooked. Either way, it was a nourishing food, high in carbohydrates if not a monotonous dish. Poi is gluten free so neither the lepers, those who cared for them, and anyone eating it today with celiac disease have to worry about the gluten content.

Mochi confections - blueberry, pineapple, strawberry and orange

Another ingredient native to the Pacific Islands and other parts of Asia is mochi. Mochi is rice flour made from pounding or beating mochigome, a short-grained glutinous rice (not to be confused with gluten).

It is unlikely that Br. Dutton and the lepers enjoyed the desserts made from mochi that are found on the Hawaiian islands today. Those requiring gluten-free treats will be happy to know that mochi desserts fit their dietary restrictions offering variety and taste. The consistency of mochi desserts and other dishes using mochi instead of flour is different; it is more gelatinous, a bit spongy or chewy in comparison to flour-based dishes.

 Here is a link to an article on making homemade mochi, I have never made mochi and prefer to pick it up at the supermarket. Those of you with a more adventuresome culinary spirit than my own, may enjoy giving it a try. Mochi can be found in many supermarkets in either the baking or international aisle. If your town or city has an Asian grocery, you will find it there, too.

I have tried a number of the recipes in Jean Watanabe Hee's book, Hawai'i's Best Mochi Recipes. We do not have any family members that require a gluten-free diet - at least not yet. But I was curious about what mochi desserts, blueberry mochi and pumpkin mochi, to name two, were like so I made them and a few others. We enjoyed them.

My strong attraction to mochi is from the absolutely scrumptious mochi ice cream balls found in Honolulu. There is a homemade ice cream shop which features the most delectable mochi ice cream ever. It is called Bubbies, If you find yourself in Honolulu be sure to stop by and try the mochi ice cream balls. Homemade ice cream wrapped in a mochi covering. Check out the previous link to see the varieties of ice cream and mochi coverings. This is a delectable treat that "melts in your mouth not in your hands!" There are Asian grocery stores in the U.S. that carry mochi ice cream balls, but the ice cream balls, although good, do not compare to Bubbies'! This is not meant to discourage you from trying them, but rather to encourage you to visit Hawaii, go to Molokai where St Damien and Br. Dutton cared for the lepers, and stop by Bubbies before you leave Honolulu and try some of Bubbies mochi ice cream balls!  Aloha!

View of the island of Molokai

1 comment:

  1. This was so interesting! My aunt lived in HI for many years and hated poi. That's so sad to know it's going away.