These New Poi Packs Make It Easier to Fuel Up on Poi
A local athlete and mom creates a poi package for on-the-go eating.
Photo: Jennifer Carlile Dalgamouni
Poi is the quintessential Hawaiian starch. It’s healthy, hypoallergenic and tasty, but it’s not the easiest item to pack and serve, especially with its short shelf life. Now avid canoe paddler and mother of three Mahealani Jensen has invented the Poi Pack, a squeezable pouch with a twist-off cap that contains 3 ounces of pure poi. It’s easy to pop in your bag, open and close, and can even be carried onto the plane.
The idea came to her in 2000. As an athlete, Jensen used poi as her “secret” fuel. She would snip the end off plastic bags full of poi and suck out a few mouthfuls during paddling races around Hawaiʻi, California and Tahiti.
“Poi always kept me feeling fueled without the big crash at the end that most energy bars did. I felt satisfied without feeling full,” she said.
While crossing the 38-mile Molokaʻi Channel in the Na Wahine O Ke Kai race, she realized that many other paddlers were also squeezing poi from bags at stops every 15 to 20 minutes.
“I thought to myself, ‘why doesn’t someone create poi in more convenient packaging?’”
That night, she wrote down her idea of a “grab-and-go” poi pack. But, poi’s short shelf-life and the high cost of packaging soon stalled the project.
Photo: Courtesy of Mahealani Jensen
In 2009, she had her first child. Jensen gave her baby girl poi as her first semisolid food–and in the process, rekindled her dream.
“Poi has so many amazing benefits and I knew how important it was to create a way people could enjoy it anywhere anytime; we live in a world that everything is about convenience,” she said.
It took her another eight years to get her packs ready to market. Jensen launched her Poi Packs last August at the world’s largest outrigger canoe race, the Queen Liliʻuokalani Outrigger Canoe Race on the Big Island. She quickly sold out all 500 pouches she brought with her. Now you can find Poi Packs across Hawaiʻi Island at six locations of KTA Superstores, Choice Mart and Island Gourmet; they’ll soon be on Safeway’s shelves too. On Oʻahu, Poi Packs are currently only sold at Tamura’s in Wai‘anae, but Jensen plans to be in Honolulu stores soon as well as on Moloka‘i.
The simple pouches, branded with the words, “Ancient Tradition, Instant Nutrition,” sell for about $4.25 each. We found the poi sweet, satisfying and easy to eat, with a smooth texture; it went down in seconds. Jensen tasted every brand of poi she could find and chose Hanalei Poi Co.’s because it was the most consistently tasty.
“Hanalei is in a category of its own: It’s more gourmet and pricier,” she said. Jensen has to be sure to transport the poi from Kauaʻi to Kona and repackage it quickly, under refrigeration and with as little handling as possible.
While some see poi’s delicate, unpasteurized nature and short shelf-life as a problem, she says: “The best thing about that is that it’s as pure as it comes; it’s just taro and water.”
When people ask how long her packets will last, she says: “It lasts about a minute if you eat it right away.” (Real answer: up to three weeks in the refrigerator.)
Poi Packs have proved popular with paddlers, Iron Man triathletes, babies and children. Jensen has also received letters from mothers of keiki with severe food allergies asking to purchase large quantities of pouches. Cancer patients have told her how beneficial the packs were after chemotherapy treatments. WIC, the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children also offers Poi Packs to young children who have medical or nutritional risks.
“It warms my heart,” Jensen says.