The History of Hawaiian Shave Ice dates back to the sugar plantation days of old Hawaii. Thousands of Japanese immigrants flocked to Hawaii to work on the plantations and with them they brought a frozen treat that is now known as shave ice.
The frozen confection that they introduced to the Hawaiian Islands was not a new concept. In Japan shave ice is called Kakigori and it dates back to the Heian period running from 794 to 1185 A.D. During that time the ice was brought down from the mountains in the winter and stored in a cave called ‘Himuro’ in Japanese and means ‘Ice room’. At that time ice was considered rare and shave ice was a luxury, a treat reserved for royalty only.
The modern form of shave ice we know and love today is believed to have been invented in the port town of Yokohama, Japan in 1869. Due to its popularity, by the 1920’s shave ice was a common attraction in stores throughout Japan.
In plantation times, the delicious frozen treat was only sold on Sundays, the only day of the week immigrants had off. With the decline of Hawaiian sugar’s popularity, these immigrants moved off the plantations and opened their own family grocery stores. There they sold household goods along with shave ice which proved to be a huge commercial success and continues to be to this day.
Shave ice exists all over the world today and is known by different names such as Gola Gunda in Pakistan, Juski in India, Ice Kachang in Malasia & Singapore where it is served with red beans and other fruits, Raspa, Raspado, or Raspadillo in Mexico and Peru (Raspar means “scrape” in Spanish) and of course the Snow Cone on the mainland.
Today’s Hawaiian’s Shave ice or Hawaiian shave ice is an ice-based dessert made by shaving a block of ice. While the product can resemble a snow cone, snow cones are made with crushed, rather than shaved, ice. Even though it is made with shaved ice, it is called “shave ice”, not “shaved ice” in Hawai’i. On the Big Island of Hawai’i, it is also referred to as ‘ice shave’, though both terms (ice shave and shave ice) are used by locals.
Shaving produces a very fine ice that appears snow-like. This extremely fine texture causes syrups added to it to be absorbed by the ice rather than simply surrounding. A properly made shave ice product rarely requires a straw, since the flavors are in the ice and not at the bottom of the cup. Although the traditional American flavors are common, shave ice in Hawai’i is often flavored with local ingredients such as guava, pineapple, coconut cream, passion fruit, li hing mui, lychee, kiwi fruit and mango. Hawaiian shave ice is traditionally served in a conical paper or plastic cup with multiple flavors and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and/or azuki bean paste at the bottom of the cup. Sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top is sometimes called a “snow cap.” This style of shave ice is common on the north shore of O’ahu, as well as on Maui and the Big Island of Hawai’i (where it is called “Japanese style”).