Price of Paiai October 18 2013, 1 Comment
Store-bought poi has a taro content of no less than 28% (Department of Health). This means that for a single pound of poi you are getting a little less than 1/3 of a pound of actual taro. Conversely, in 1943, poi with a taro content of less than 30% was deemed unfit for consumption (County of Hawaii). So, how did 30% become the norm?
Well, the price of taro isn’t all that expensive – the large taro mills pay on average 67¢ per pound. What has changed is the volume of production. In 1900, it is estimated, there were just over 1,200 acres of taro in production. Today, there remain less than 400 acres of taro. That’s a more than 60% reduction in taro available. Less taro equates to less taro in your poi.
Our paiai is hand-pounded – not milled through a machine – using the least amount of water and containing a taro content of between 95% and 99%. But this still leaves us with a $25 product. So what gives?
Well, paiai is *not* poi. Poi is diluted paiai. After pounding paiai, it is mixed into poi by adding water. One pound of our paiai mixes three pounds of one-finger poi. If we were to mix our paiai into the same consistency as store-bought poi, we would have around four pounds. So, let’s do the math.
One pound of paiai costs $25. One pound of store-bought poi costs $6 – we’ll go with the low figure. Comfortably mixing our paiai into three-and-a-half pounds, that comes out to $7.14. For a dollar and change more you get a hand-made product. Now let’s turn to taro quality.
The taro mills use an improvised mochi machine to process taro into poi. To do this, they use overripe taro for two reasons: firstly, once past maturation, the huluhulu, the roots, of the taro have atrophied making it easier to harvest; and secondly, overripe taro won’t wear down a mill.
Taro is deemed overripe, or loliloli, because of its low starch and high sugar and water content. The same taro would be difficult, if not impossible to kui. Our taro, however, is pulled just as the corms begin to ripen, maximizing starch content and minimizing loliloli kalo, which is why we purchase only the highest quality taro for no less than $2.00 per pound. Varieties we comfortably work with, like kai or apii or moi or pololu, would ravage a poi mill. It is too thick for a machine to process into poi, under current capabilities. And for anyone who’s had paiai, there is simply no replacement, no substitute for the thick, gummy, mochi-like consistency.
So, we make no claims that our taro is of higher quality or more that our poi is more cost-effective for the consumer, because as Uncle Jerry Konanui says, no taro is better than another – it all depends on the mahiai, the farmers, who malama them. We invite you, though, to open your umeke, fill it with our poi, scoop a mouthful and decide for yourself. No hookano. Just ai. E ola Haloa.
Department of Health, title 11, ch. 29, §11-29-6 Poi.http://gen.doh.hawaii.gov/sites/har/admrules1/11-29.pdf.
County of Hawaii, ordinance no. 131, sec. 4. An Ordinance Regulating Poi Shop. http://records.co.hawaii.hi.us/Weblink8/DocView.aspx?id=58110&searchid=8078b84a-6fce-4b0c-90c7-de3d361a45d5&dbid=0.