As head of CDS Foods in Montreal, Cesare Della Santina guides a company that sources quality products, including ginger and garlic, from around the world. Cesare Della Santina’s firm also imports a number of tropical specialty products, including dragon fruit, Asian pears, and taro root. Traditional to the Polynesian islands, taro maintains an integral role in the Hawaiian diet.
One of the early Hawaiian staples, poi is created by steaming the nutritious, starchy tuber and pounding it with wooden boards and stones. This crushing process is called poi via ku’I, and the end result is a purple-colored dish that resembles bread dough and has a mildly sweet flavor. Additional flavor can be obtained through a natural fermentation process over a couple days, which adds sourness.
For many decades, taro agriculture in Hawaii was in decline, as sugar plantations replaced traditional fields and less-nutritious potatoes took taro’s place. In recent years, awareness of the importance of taro, both as a source of nutrition and as a cultural ingredient, has come to the fore, and poi is again a common sight on many Hawaiian dinner tables.