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Hawaiian Shave Ice

Updated on October 25, 2013

dessert snow... and beyond!

Shave ice (or shaved ice) is a simple but refreshing summertime treat that turns up in more types of world cooking than you might imagine. It's when ice is finely shaved and then flavored with a sweetened syrup. This can be a really fun dessert for kids parties, a backyard cookout or during those killer heat waves that happen a few times each year.

The texture is somewhat lighter and fluffier than crushed ice (that's more the American "sno cone" thing), and all the space in the ice shavings allows for added flavor syrups to blend throughout the ice more evenly than you would get with ice that had been merely crushed or chipped. Some early ice cream variations were frozen milk that formed ice crystals, and this is much more like shaved ice than modern ice cream. While machines are often used to make the ice shavings, in many Asian countries you can still find street vendors who use hand-operated shaving blades to produce this tasty dessert.

flavors, photo by Euryale Sinclair
flavors, photo by Euryale Sinclair

Shave Ice (and it's Cousins)

flavored ice around the world

Hawaiian style - for this variation, a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream goes at the bottom, then the ice, and then the flavoring is poured over the top.

Japanese - what makes these versions distinctive is toppings such as bean paste or sweet condensed milk. The name for shave ice in Japanese is "kakigori" (with a long "o" sound).

Thailand - the real difference with this version is what is usually considered a topping is served on the bottom, with the ice shavings added to the top. You'll find coconut milk, chestnuts and sticky rice at the bottom of your "Nam Kang Sai."

American style - this is when ice is crushed rather than shaved, and is put into a paper cone and topped with fruity syrup to be a "sno cone." These tend to be more watery than when the ice is actually shaved.

Italian ice - these were little frozen cups of flavored ice that I got at the snack stand at the pool or off the ice cream truck that drove through my neighborhood. Orange was the best flavor.

Homemade Hawaiian Shave Ice

Ice shavers rotate blocks of ice against sharp blades to make genuine shavings, not crushed ice like you get with a blender. The end result here is much drier and lighter. Instead of loading this with ice cubes, you have to freeze large ice blocks specifically to fit the machine.

My Introduction to Shave Ice - and it wasn't in Hawaii

shave ice, photo by Euryale Sinclair
shave ice, photo by Euryale Sinclair

Although I have been to O'ahu a few times, I never had Hawaiian shave ice while I was there. But on a visit to Portland and the delightful Cartlandia, I became captivated by these towering desserts that were coming out of one of the food trucks. That led me to Local Girls Hawaiian Shaved Ice and their authentic creations.

What you see here is the small-in-progress. The shave ice machine scrapes huge blocks of ice to produce large, flat, fluffy shavings with the texture of genuine snow. These are patted gently together on top of a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream to form a gigantic snowball and then topped with as many flavored syrups as you desire. The small is 12 oz of shaved ice, which makes the mediums and larges rather terrifying unless you are doing a group dessert.

What's Your Favorite Ice?

shave ice sign, photo by Euryale Sinclair
shave ice sign, photo by Euryale Sinclair

If you favorite isn't one of the included options, please leave a comment letting us know what it is! I'm always interested in having a new dessert experience...

Which ethnic flavored ice is your personal favorite?

See results

Shave Ice, Island-Style

Ever tried it? Or not? Curious? Too cold for you?

What's Your Take On Shave Ice?

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      5 years ago

      I only tried Italian ices (granita).


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