You might know it as Italian Ice, Snow Cone, SnoBall, or Hawaiian Shaved Ice, but real Hawaiians know this sweet treat simply as Shave Ice.
Shave Ice Origin Story
Japanese immigrants brought Shave Ice (never called Shaved Ice in the Aloha State) to Hawaii when they came to work on the sugar plantations.
Unlike Snow Cones and other similar frozen confections served on the mainland, Shave Ice is unique in that the ice is literally shaved to make fluffy mounds of tiny crystals of ice. The shaving of the ice is what gives Shave Ice its delightfully light texture on the tongue. Snow Cones, on the other hand, grind the ice into larger, crunchy crystals.
Most Snow Cones, Italian Ice, and many Shave Ice are topped with a goopy syrup made of high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. But, the best Shave Ice is topped with syrups made with real fruit.
Shave Ice Variations
Shave Ice is often served with a scoop of ice cream at the bottom of the paper cone. A Sno Cap is a Shave Ice topped with sweetened condensed milk. If that sounds like it would be really sweet with the fruit syrup, it is, but it’s also quite delicious.
Shave Ice Flavors
There are dozens and dozens of Shave Ice flavors to try when you’re in Hawaii. Some of the best come from local fruit like guava, pineapple, lychee, or lilikoi (passionfruit). The best part is that most Shave Ice places will allow you to combine flavors so you can try several in one serving.
Where to get Shave Ice
Ululani’s has some of the best Shave Ice in Hawaii. They use real cane sugar (not high fructose corn syrup) and natural fruit purees. They have several locations on Maui (and one on the Big Island) but my favorite is in the town of Paia. That’s because Paia is a funky little Hawaiian town with a hippie vibe. Perfect place to grab a Sunset Beach Shave Ice (guava, mango & passion orange topped with mochi) and do some window shopping or watch the surfers on the beach.
On the island of Kauai, Wailua Shave Ice is one of the best. They make their foams and syrups with real fruit. The coconut foam is a revelation. And if you can’t make it to Hawaii, they also have a location in Portland, OR.
Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha in Waikiki has Shave Ice topped with organic syrups.
On the Big Island, One Aloha makes their Shave Ice with organic ingredients. They also have a coffee Shave Ice made with local Kona coffee.
There’s a lot of tourist traps selling Shave Ice in Hawaii, making a quick buck on unsuspecting visitors. So, be sure to visit one of these legit places or ask questions about the syrups and sweeteners before ordering.
About the Author
Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lisbon, Porto, Sintra, Monsaraz, and Evora in Portugal. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.