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The Colorful History of Hawaiian Shave Ice

Bright greens mixed with yellow under a blue sky bring the feeling of summer in the air. When the time comes, the colors of the outdoor shift to vibrant reds and oranges of autumn. We all associate certain patterns of colors with certain seasons and it’ll come as no surprise that colors are associated with flavors as well!

Bright splashes of flavor like cherry red on a fluffy bed of ice, Hawaiian shave ice makes for the perfect refreshment on a hot summer day. Unlike other forms of flavored icy treats, shave ice is made by shaving small bits of ice from a large block. This allows the syrup to be better absorbed by the soft, sheer flakes of ice. The result, a delicious bowl of icy, fruity goodness that melts in your mouth.

Although it may seem like a simple combination of syrup and ice, there is a unique and rich history behind this frozen confection.

The technique of ice shaving can be traced back to the 11th century in Japan, where shave ice is referred to as kakigori. During the Heian period, ice was brought down from the mountains in the winter and stored in a cave. When it was time, a Japanese heirloom sword was used to finely shave the ice to be served as a luxurious treat reserved only for royalty. It wasn’t until the 19th century that ice became more widely available to the public during the summertime.


The history of Hawaiian shave ice is one of humble beginnings to greatness. Japanese immigrants moved to the Hawaiian islands to work the plantations and brought with them the concoction of fruit syrup with finely shave ice. To beat the heat of the hot, tropical climate of the island, the plantation workers enjoyed shave ice as a refreshing snack to quench their thirst and cool down. Every Sunday, the laborers working the plantations would congregate in town and make shave ice for their family and friends. Since they shared this experience on their only day off, it was during these gatherings that shaped the identity of the Hawaiian people. Today, shave ice can be found anywhere on the island- in coffee shops, mom and pop stores, shave ice stands and local grocery stores.

Fortunately for the immigrant workers, there was an abundance of exotic fruits and sugars surrounding their new home. It didn’t take long for them to develop unique and delicious flavors for their syrup. Hawaiian shave ice is often flavored with tropical, local ingredients such as guava, pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, lychee, kiwi and mango.

With the advancement of technology, modern shave ice has come a long way from its origins. At first, machetes were used to shave large blocks of ice into a cup and then topped with homemade syrups. Now, ice shaver machines such as the Hatsuyuki Ice Shaver are used to shave ice and has the ability to adjust ice texture accordingly- crunchy, coarse, fine, or fluffy.

And while plenty of cultures have their own version of flavored ice, Hawaii’s variation has a colorful history that came from humble beginnings. At Real Hawaiian Ice, we have a deep appreciation for the history and culture of Hawaiian shave ice. Our goal is to offer the best supplies for all your shave ice needs to take you on an authentic Hawaiian adventure in the comfort of your own home. We carry the best shave ice flavors as well as Hatsuyuki ice shavers to complete your Real Hawaiian Ice experience here.