If you have ever been to Hawaii and had a "plate lunch", you know how creamy and delicious Hawaiian macaroni salad is! Creamy and slightly sweet, Hawaii's mac salad is a comfort food favorite!
Growing up in Hawaii, plate lunch is part of the culture and there are a few key components to a delicious plate lunch. The protein, such as shoyu chicken or kalbi ribs, a scoop of white rice and another scoop of Hawaiian style macaroni salad. Or as the locals call it, "mac salad".
🤙 What is Hawaiian Mac Salad
Hawaiian mac salad is an integral part of the food culture of Hawaii and many locals have their own macaroni salad recipe. Though mac salad is not Hawaiian food, it is said to have been brought over by the plantation owners who came from Europe.
These days, this creamy macaroni salad is a staple of local food in Hawaii. And there are a few key ingredients and tips that make for a delicious or "ono" (delicious in Hawaiian), authentic macaroni salad.
An authentic Hawaiian style macaroni salad recipe has to be incredibly creamy, savory and slight sweet with no large or crunchy pieces. Therefore the simple ingredients of carrots and onion are finely grated and mixed into the mac salad very well.
Hawaiian macaroni salad is simple and has a handful of ingredients. There are variations that are added, such as tuna or hard boiled eggs as well. But the star of the show is creamy and thick Best Foods Mayonaise.
- Elbow Macaroni: This is the classic shape of local style mac salad. The small shape of the elbow noodles soaks up the mayonaise, making a creamy result.
- Best Foods Mayonnaise: If you asked any local in Hawaii what mayonnaise is best, they will say Best Foods. It's thick and creamy and the flavor is iconic. The sister brand is Hellman's mayonnaise, which is the same product.
- Grated Carrot: Grating a carrot is worth the step to achieve the right texture. Use the large holes of a box grater. The carrot also gives a bit of sweetness to the mac salad.
- Grated Onion: If you can find a sweet onion or sweet Maui onion, use that. If not, a yellow or white onion would work great. Grate the onion so there are no large pieces to bite into.
- Sugar: A touch of white sugar gives the entire mac salad a bit of sweetness.
- Vinegar: To counter the sweetness from the sugar and carrot, a touch of apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar adds a layer of brightness to the decadent macaroni salad.
- Salt and Pepper: Taste as you go and adjust as needed. I like a lot of black pepper in my mac salad but start small and add more as you taste.
See recipe card for quantities.
- Cook elbow macaroni fully, drain and rinse under cold water and let the macaroni cool completely.
- Once cooled, add the macaroni to a large bowl along with the grated carrot, grated onion, mayonaise, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and stir to combine very well.
- Cover the macaroni salad with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, so the flavors can blend.
- Once the mac salad is chilled, taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Garnish with chives if preferred and serve.
Combine all spices into a large bowl and mix thoroughly into lean ground beef
Form into ball shape with your hands
As the macaroni salad settles, it will soak up the mayonnaise and other flavors and change the flavor slightly from when it's first mixed. Once it's chilled, taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
There are a few variations for Hawaiian mac salad and depending on where you go in Hawaii, you'll see one or more of these styles.
- Hard Boiled Eggs: Chop 3-4 hard boiled eggs and add that to the macaroni salad when you are mixing everything together.
- Potato Mac Salad: Peel russet potatoes and cut them into small ¼ inch to ½ inch cubes and boil until incredibly tender and cooked through. Then chill the potatoes and add them to the macaroni salad along with the mayonaise, carrots and onion and stir to combine.
- Canned Tuna: Hawaiian macaroni salad with tuna is another very popular variation. But it has to be the tuna in oil, for the best flavor!
- Fried Spam: Cut slices of spam and fry until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Then cut into small cubes add add to the macaroni salad.
Keep macaroni salad in an air tight container or sealed bowl with plastic wrap and in the fridge. Macaroni salad will last up to 4 days and gets better as it sits.
Make sure to chill the cooked macaroni noodles fully so it doesn't absorb too much mayonnaise at first. As the macaroni settles, it will absorb some of the mayonnaise, but not as much when chilled.
Yes, once the macaroni noodles are cooked, drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking and rinse away any excess starch. Then chill the macaroni fully and once chilled, stir the mayonaise in.
More Hawaiian Recipes to Try
These are my favorite dishes to serve with Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 1 ½ cups mayonnaise Hellmans or Best Foods
- ½ cup grated carrot
- ¼ cup grated onion yellow, white or sweet onion
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper + more if needed
- Chives finely chopped, for garnish
- Boil the macaroni noodles in a large pot of water until cooked through according to box directions, about 8 minutes.
- Once cooked, drain the noodles and run the noodles under cold water to stop the cooking.
- Transfer the cooked noodles to a bowl and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 30 minutes.
- Once the noodles are chilled, add the mayonnaise, grated carrot, grated onion, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper and stir to combine very well.
- Taste for seasoning, though the flavor will change slightly after it's chilled further.
- Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the bowl and chill in the refrigerator so the flavors can blend together, for at least 1 hour.
- Taste for seasoning again and adjust as needed. Garnish with chives, if deserved and serve.
This was so delicious! I was a little nervous as it is very different from pasta salads I have had before, but it was a huge hit with the whole family. The onion flavor and the slightly sweet sauce just work together so well! Had to use shell macaroni because I was out of elbow but it still turned out fantastic!
T. Noelani says
As a native Hawaiian, I'd like to ask if you could make an edit to this recipe.
First, I'm going to point out in in the islands you can find mac salad just about anywhere-in the stores where you can get your potato wedges and fried chicken, etc and at restaurants with a main entree and a scoop of rice and a scoop of mac salad.
However, mac salad is not Hawaiian. It can be considered a local staple in our communities but it is not Hawaiian in the same way that food like Lau Lau and poi is. (And if youre thinking if pinapples are apart of that list, they are not-but coconuts are!) Hawaii is considered a mixing pot of ethnicities because when we were colonized, people of Filipino, japanese, portuguese, wtc ethnicities were brought over to work plantations. This is why you can see a lot of crossover in our local food, celebrations, traditions, etc.
But that's another story, not sure if Hawaiian history is taught in the mainland but a simple Google search can be helpful.
Anyway, back to the food. If you make an edit to this recipe we use the following ingredients for traditional mac salad: Best Foods Mayo, Elbow Macaroni Noodles, grated carrots, onions that have gone through a processor, salt, white pepper, and Aginomoto seasoning. Some people and local restaurants add tuna, peas, celery, potatoes, boiled eggs, and even paprika or dill weed.
I hope this was helpful.
Samantha Ferraro says
Noelani, Yes informative and so very helpful. As a kid growing up in Kona we had many versions. The version I made was spin of one served at Kealakehe High School and KTA deli. The Mac Salad versions you stated are also wonderful and speak to the wonderful blend of cultures that make up Hawaii and my favorite memories. I often speak about Hawaii on my podcast and when I do TV cooking segments and speak of the respect for the food and the land. When we are home in Kona, we will remake the recipe with Best Foods Mayo, Elbow Macaroni Noodles, grated carrots, onions, salt, white pepper, and Aginomoto seasoning. Mahalo for your Kokua. Kamaka, (Samantha).