Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Total Time

Prep/Total Time: 30 min.

Makes

10 servings

Updated: Jun. 02, 2023
I had to figure out how to make Hawaiian macaroni salad at home because my husband was getting tired of ordering enough for our whole family from a local restaurant. Sometimes I use green onions and serve the salad with a drizzle of teriyaki sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. —Blaine Kahle, Florence, Oregon

Ingredients

  • 1 package (16 ounces) uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar, divided
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped, optional
  • 2 tablespoons grated onion
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Chopped green onions, optional

Directions

  1. Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water. Toss macaroni with 1 tablespoon vinegar; cool completely.
  2. For dressing, in a small bowl, whisk remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar and next 8 ingredients. Add pasta to a large serving bowl. Add dressing; gently toss to coat. Refrigerate until serving. If desired, garnish with green onions.

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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad Tips

What makes Hawaiian macaroni salad Hawaiian?

You may be surprised to learn that traditional Hawaiian macaroni salad typically doesn’t include ham, pineapple or other tropical ingredients commonly associated with Hawaii. It’s a simple, no frills side dish consisting of cooked elbow macaroni and shredded carrots, swirled with a generous amount of mayonnaise—the real stuff—which gives the salad its signature creaminess and flavor. Authentic versions favor Best Foods (or Hellmann’s) brand of mayonnaise.

The origins of macaroni salad in Hawaii are said to date back to the early 1900s when European hotel chefs and plantation owners introduced potato salad to the islands. Unfortunately, potatoes perished quickly in the humid climate, and spuds were later swapped for a cheaper, non-perishable ingredient: dry elbow pasta. It was around this time that Hawaiian mac salad became a staple side dish in migrant plantation workers’ metal lunch boxes, which also included salty meats and white rice. By the 1930s, waterfront and roadside vendors started selling Hawaiian mac salad, giving it a permanent place in Hawaiian cuisine.

Today, locals enjoy Hawaiian macaroni salad as a key dish in classic lunch plates sold at diners and food trucks. It’s also a popular menu item at barbecues, luaus and potlucks.

Do you heat up Hawaiian macaroni salad?

No! Hawaiian macaroni salad is a cool, creamy side dish that should be served chilled.

What else can you add to Hawaiian macaroni salad?

This cold pasta salad typically features a simple flavor profile, as it's intended to neutralize the more salty and robust flavors in other Hawaiian foods that often accompany it. But, if you want to amp up the flavor or heartiness, consider adding chopped ham, bacon or canned tuna.

When it comes to produce, small broccoli florets, diced cucumber, red pepper, sliced black olives, minced celery, fresh pineapple and scallions would all be great options to add to Hawaiian macaroni salad. Finally, a dash of paprika and turmeric will add a little zip.

What do you serve with Hawaiian macaroni salad?

At a food truck or roadside stand in Hawaii, you’ll get a classic plate with a meaty entree like Kalua pork and a few scoops of white rice. The salad is simple, creamy and cool, and will balance nicely with dishes that have some kick. You can go with a Hawaiian-style main dish such as Huli Huli chicken or any number of classic spicy barbecue recipes.

How do you store homemade macaroni salad?

Store homemade macaroni salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. If your salad is looking a little dry after a couple of days, you can revive it by stirring in some warm water, or a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise thinned with a little bit of milk.

Hazel Wheaton, Taste of Home Books Editor, Amy Glander, Taste of Home Book Editor

Nutrition Facts

3/4 cup: 464 calories, 33g fat (5g saturated fat), 4mg cholesterol, 353mg sodium, 36g carbohydrate (4g sugars, 2g fiber), 6g protein.