Vegan and Gluten-Free Options in Hawaiian Cuisine

Embarking on a culinary journey through the vibrant flavors of Hawaiian cuisine doesn't mean missing out on the goodness of vegan and gluten-free delights. The lush landscapes and rich cultural heritage of Hawaii have inspired a range of traditional dishes, and now, with a twist of innovation, these mouthwatering classics have been transformed to cater to diverse dietary preferences. From sun-kissed poke bowls brimming with marinated tofu to the captivating dance of coconut-infused haupia desserts, discover how the Aloha State's culinary traditions embrace the world of vegan and gluten-free with open arms.

In this article, we will present you some of the best known Hawaiian dishes that can easily be adapted to be vegan and gluten-free, by replacing just a couple of ingredients. Let’s start:

Poke Bowl

The poke bowl is a beloved Hawaiian dish that has gained popularity worldwide. Traditionally, it consists of bite-sized pieces of raw fish, typically marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, and other seasonings. These fish pieces are then served over a bed of rice and accompanied by various toppings. However, if you're looking for vegan and gluten-free alternatives, there are several creative options to explore:


Instead of the traditional white rice, you can opt for brown rice, quinoa, or even cauliflower rice as a gluten-free base.

For a low-carb alternative, consider using mixed greens or zucchini noodles.


  • Marinated Tofu: Cubes of tofu can be marinated in a soy sauce or tamari-based mixture, along with flavors like ginger, garlic, and lime juice. This provides a protein-rich, plant-based option.
  • Marinated Tempeh: Tempeh can also be sliced and marinated to add a savory, hearty element to your bowl.
  • Vegan "Fish": Some plant-based brands offer vegan fish alternatives that mimic the texture and flavor of traditional fish.

Marinades and Sauces:

  • Gluten-Free Soy Sauce or Tamari: Ensure you use gluten-free soy sauce or tamari to maintain the dish's authentic flavor while being gluten-free.
  • Citrus and Herb Marinade: Create a marinade using citrus juices (such as orange or pineapple), fresh herbs, olive oil, and spices for a burst of flavor.


  • Avocado: Sliced avocado adds creaminess and healthy fats to your bowl.
  • Seaweed Salad: This is often gluten-free and brings a taste of the ocean to your dish.
  • Edamame: These young soybeans are packed with protein and make a nutritious topping.
  • Pickled Vegetables: Add a tangy kick with pickled ginger, radishes, or cucumber.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Sprinkle some crushed macadamia nuts or sesame seeds for crunch and texture.


  • Furikake: This Japanese seasoning can be gluten-free and adds a flavorful punch to your bowl.
  • Spicy Mayo: Create a vegan version using dairy-free mayo and sriracha for a spicy kick.

The beauty of a poke bowl is its versatility. You can mix and match these components to create a personalized bowl that suits your taste preferences and dietary needs. Just be sure to communicate your dietary requirements clearly if you're ordering at a restaurant, and don't hesitate to ask about ingredient substitutions. Whether you're a vegan, gluten-free, or simply an adventurous food lover, the poke bowl offers a canvas for creativity and culinary exploration.


Laulau is a traditional Hawaiian dish that typically consists of pork or fish wrapped in luau (taro) leaves and then steamed or baked until tender. The leaves infuse the meat with a rich, earthy flavor. While the traditional preparation involves animal products, there are creative ways to enjoy laulau with gluten-free and vegan alternatives:

Meat Alternatives:

  • Jackfruit: Young jackfruit has a texture similar to pulled pork and can be marinated and seasoned to mimic the flavors of traditional pork laulau.
  • Tofu: Firm tofu can be marinated and cooked to replace the meat element. It will absorb the flavors of the leaves and seasonings.
  • Tempeh: Tempeh, made from fermented soybeans, offers a hearty and protein-rich option that can be seasoned to complement the dish.

Leaf Alternatives:

  • Banana Leaves: While banana leaves are not the same as luau leaves, they can be a suitable gluten-free alternative for wrapping the dish. They are used in various cuisines and can add their own unique flavor.
  • Collard Greens: Large collard green leaves can be used as a substitute for wrapping the filling. They're sturdy and have a slightly bitter taste that complements the dish.

Seasonings and Flavors:

  • Coconut Aminos: Use coconut aminos or gluten-free tamari to season the filling and replicate the umami-rich taste of soy sauce.
  • Taro Flavoring: To capture the essence of taro leaves, consider using taro powder or other taro-flavored seasonings.

Cooking Method:

  • Steaming: Steam the wrapped laulau alternatives to infuse the flavors and achieve a tender texture. You can use a traditional steamer or a modern steaming method.
  • Baking: If you don't have access to traditional underground ovens (imu), you can bake the laulau alternatives in an oven. Wrapping them in parchment paper before baking helps retain moisture.

Traditional Accompaniments:

  • Poi: Poi is gluten-free and vegan by nature, as it's made from pounded taro root. It's a traditional Hawaiian staple that complements laulau.

Flavor Profile:

Utilize traditional Hawaiian seasonings like sea salt, coconut milk, garlic, and onions to capture the essence of laulau's flavors.

When creating a gluten-free and vegan version of laulau, the focus should be on maintaining the dish's authentic flavors while using creative alternatives for the meat and wrapping. Remember that the goal is to enjoy a dish that is both satisfying and respectful of dietary choices.


Poi is a staple food in traditional Hawaiian cuisine made from the starchy root of the taro plant. It's known for its distinct texture and slightly tangy flavor. Poi is naturally vegan and gluten-free, making it an excellent option for those with dietary restrictions. However, if you're looking to explore alternative options or variations, here are some ideas:

Traditional Poi: 

Poi is traditionally made by steaming or baking taro root, then pounding and fermenting it until it reaches the desired consistency. It can be thin and liquid-like or thick and doughy, depending on personal preference.

Traditional Poi

Taro Alternatives:

  • Sweet Potato Poi: Use cooked and mashed sweet potatoes to create a similar texture and flavor. While this won't be exactly like traditional taro poi, it can provide a tasty and nutritious alternative.

Flavor Variations:

  • Fruit-Infused Poi: Incorporate mashed ripe fruits like bananas or mangoes to add natural sweetness and depth of flavor to your poi.

Texture Adjustments:

  • Smooth vs. Chunky: You can adjust the blending time to achieve the desired texture. For a smoother consistency, blend longer; for a chunkier texture, blend less.

Toppings and Mix-Ins:

  • Coconut Milk: Drizzle coconut milk over your poi for added creaminess and flavor.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Top with chopped macadamia nuts or seeds for crunch and nutrition.
  • Fresh Fruit: Garnish with slices of tropical fruits like pineapple or papaya.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Poi Bowl: Serve poi as a base and top with your choice of fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, and coconut.
  • Poi Parfait: Layer poi with dairy-free yogurt, granola, and fruit for a delicious parfait.


Use small bowls or hollowed-out fruit shells to serve your poi creatively. When making poi alternatives, keep in mind that the taste and texture might differ from traditional poi, but the goal is to create a dish that suits your dietary preferences while capturing the spirit of Hawaiian cuisine. Experiment with different ingredients and methods to find the combination that appeals to you most. 

Kalua Pig

Kalua pig is a traditional Hawaiian dish that involves slow-cooking a whole pig in an imu (an underground oven). The result is tender, flavorful, and smoky pork. While replicating the exact flavors and textures of traditional kalua pig in a vegan and gluten-free version can be challenging, there are creative alternatives that can capture the essence of the dish: 

Pulled Jackfruit: 

Jackfruit has a fibrous texture that can closely resemble pulled pork when cooked and shredded. Marinate and season the jackfruit with smoky and savory flavors to mimic the taste of kalua pig.

Pulled Mushrooms: 

Certain types of mushrooms, such as king oyster or shiitake, can be cooked and shredded to mimic pulled pork. The mushrooms absorb flavors well and can be seasoned to achieve a smoky taste.

Smoked Tofu or Tempeh: 

Smoke tofu or tempeh to add a smoky flavor reminiscent of kalua pig. Slice or crumble the tofu or tempeh and marinate it in a smoky sauce before cooking.

Smoky Seasonings: 

Use a combination of smoked paprika, liquid smoke, and other smoky seasonings to infuse the vegan protein source with the characteristic smokiness of kalua pig.

Gluten-Free Soy Sauce or Tamari:

If using soy sauce or tamari to marinate the vegan protein, opt for gluten-free versions to ensure your dish is gluten-free.

Steaming or Baking:

While the traditional method involves roasting in an imu, you can achieve similar results by slow-cooking or steaming your vegan alternative in an oven or on the stovetop.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Serve your vegan alternative on a bed of steamed rice or a gluten-free grain like quinoa.
  • Offer gluten-free and vegan side dishes such as coleslaw, grilled vegetables, and tropical fruit.

Smoky BBQ Sauce:

Brush the vegan protein with a smoky BBQ sauce during cooking to enhance the flavor profile.

Remember that while the vegan and gluten-free alternatives may not perfectly replicate the traditional kalua pig, the focus should be on creating a delicious and satisfying dish that captures the essence of Hawaiian flavors. Experiment with different ingredients and cooking methods to find the combination that suits your tastes and dietary needs.


Haupia is a traditional Hawaiian dessert that is creamy, coconut milk-based, and has a jiggly custard-like texture. It's typically made using coconut milk, sugar, and arrowroot or cornstarch to thicken the mixture. Haupia is naturally gluten-free and can be easily adapted to a vegan version by using plant-based ingredients. Here are some ideas for creating vegan and gluten-free haupia alternatives: 

Coconut Milk and Cream: 

Use full-fat coconut milk and coconut cream to create a rich and creamy base. Coconut milk is naturally gluten-free and vegan, making it suitable for both dietary restrictions.


Opt for natural sweeteners like agave nectar, maple syrup, or coconut sugar instead of refined white sugar.

Thickening Agents: 

Cornstarch or Arrowroot: These are commonly used to thicken traditional haupia. Both are gluten-free options, but be sure to choose a certified gluten-free brand.

Agar Agar: A plant-based alternative to gelatin, agar agar can be used to achieve the desired texture. Follow instructions on the packaging for substitution.

Flavor Variations: 

  • Matcha Haupia: Add matcha powder for a unique twist and a vibrant green color.
  • Chocolate Haupia: Mix in cocoa powder or melted dairy-free chocolate for a chocolatey version.
  • Fruit Flavors: Incorporate fruit purees like mango, pineapple, or passion fruit for added flavor and natural sweetness.

Texture and Presentation: 

  • Experiment with the thickness of your haupia by adjusting the amount of thickening agent you use. For a firmer texture, use more thickening agent; for a softer texture, use less.
  • Serve haupia in individual cups, bowls, or even cut into squares for a visually appealing presentation.


  • Toasted Coconut Flakes: Sprinkle toasted coconut flakes on top for added texture and flavor.
  • Fresh Fruit: Garnish with sliced tropical fruits like kiwi, mango, or strawberries.

Chilled or Set:

Haupia can be served either chilled in cups or containers, or it can be set in a dish and cut into squares for a more solid presentation.

When adapting haupia to a vegan and gluten-free version, the goal is to retain the creamy coconut flavor and the delicate texture that make haupia so delightful. Experiment with different combinations of ingredients and flavors to create a dessert that suits your preferences while respecting your dietary requirements.

Luau Stew (Beef Stew)

Luau stew, often referred to as beef stew, is a hearty and flavorful Hawaiian dish that features tender pieces of beef simmered with vegetables in a savory broth. To create a vegan and gluten-free alternative to this dish, you can use plant-based proteins and gluten-free ingredients to achieve a similar taste and texture. Here's how you can do it: 

Luau Stew (Beef Stew)

Protein Alternatives: 

  • Seitan: Seitan is a protein-rich wheat gluten product that can mimic the texture of beef. It absorbs flavors well and works particularly well in stews.
  • Tempeh: Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and has a nutty flavor. It can be cut into cubes and added to the stew.
  • Mushrooms: Certain mushrooms, such as portobello or cremini, can provide a meaty texture and rich flavor to the stew.

Broth and Flavor: 

  • Use a vegetable-based broth as the base for your stew. Choose a gluten-free and vegan broth to ensure it aligns with your dietary needs.
  • Enhance the flavor with traditional stew seasonings such as garlic, onions, thyme, bay leaves, and a touch of liquid smoke for depth.

Root Vegetables: 

Carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are commonly used in traditional luau stew and work well in the vegan version too.

Gluten-Free Thickener: 

Cornstarch or arrowroot can be used to thicken the stew. Mix a small amount of either starch with water before adding it to the stew to avoid lumps.

Cooking Method:

Simmer your stew on the stovetop or use a slow cooker to develop the flavors and ensure that the vegan protein and vegetables are tender.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve your vegan luau stew over a bed of rice, quinoa, or gluten-free pasta for a filling and satisfying meal.


  • Garnish with fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro for a burst of freshness.
  • A squeeze of lemon or lime juice can brighten up the flavors.

Gluten-Free Bread:

Serve the stew with a slice of gluten-free bread or a gluten-free roll for dipping.

When recreating luau stew with vegan and gluten-free alternatives, the key is to experiment with different plant-based proteins and flavors to achieve a rich and satisfying result. While it may not be identical to the traditional beef stew, it can still offer a hearty and flavorful dining experience that aligns with your dietary preferences.

Loco Moco

Loco Moco is a popular Hawaiian dish that typically consists of a bed of rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and rich gravy. While the traditional version includes animal products and gluten, you can easily create a delicious vegan and gluten-free alternative using plant-based ingredients. Here's how: 

Plant-Based Patty: 

  • Black Bean Patty: Make a patty using black beans, cooked quinoa or rice, finely chopped vegetables, and seasonings.
  • Portobello Mushroom Cap: Grilled or sautéed portobello mushroom caps can provide a meaty texture and rich flavor.
  • Vegan Burger: Choose a store-bought vegan burger patty that's both gluten-free and vegan.

Gluten-Free Gravy: 

  • Use gluten-free flour or starch (such as cornstarch or arrowroot) to thicken the gravy.
  • Use a gluten-free and vegan vegetable broth as the base for the gravy.

Egg Replacement:

  • Tofu Scramble: Create a scrambled tofu using turmeric for color and your choice of seasonings.
  • Vegan Egg Substitute: Use a commercial vegan egg substitute to make a scrambled egg alternative.

Rice Base:

Use plain cooked white or brown rice, or opt for other gluten-free grains like quinoa or cauliflower rice.


  • Place your vegan patty or mushroom cap on top of the rice.
  • Add your scrambled tofu or vegan egg on top of the patty.
  • Drizzle the gluten-free gravy generously over the dish.

Optional Additions:

  • Sautéed Spinach or Greens: Add a layer of sautéed greens for extra nutrition and color.
  • Sliced Avocado: Add slices of ripe avocado for creaminess and healthy fats.
  • Caramelized Onions: Top with caramelized onions for added flavor.


  • Garnish with chopped fresh herbs like parsley or chives.
  • A sprinkle of nutritional yeast can add a cheesy flavor to the dish.

Remember that the goal is to create a dish that is satisfying and delicious while adhering to your dietary preferences. The vegan and gluten-free version of Loco Moco may have a different taste and texture compared to the traditional dish, but it can still capture the essence of this iconic Hawaiian comfort food. Feel free to customize the ingredients and flavors to your liking!


Hawaiian cuisine offers a range of traditional dishes with potential vegan and gluten-free adaptations. For instance, the iconic Poke Bowl can be made with marinated tofu or plant-based proteins, while dishes like Laulau can use jackfruit or taro to replace meat. Haupia, a coconut milk dessert, can be made vegan using plant-based alternatives. Even dishes like Kalua Pig and Loco Moco can find new life with vegan and gluten-free options, using ingredients like jackfruit and plant-based patties. These adaptations let you savor the flavors of Hawaii while aligning with your dietary needs.

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