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Hawaii's favorite dessert is a must-have summer DIY

Get the low-down on shave ice.

(left) Two shaved ice makers against a blue background. (right) A person takes a spoonful of shaved ice. Credit: Reviewed / Amazon / Getty Images / Maridav

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Appeasing your sweet tooth in the summertime often means ditching baked goods and opting for more refreshing desserts, like ice cream, popsicles, and slush. But we've found that the same old pints and ice cream shop flavors can start to feel old after a few weeks.

That's why we're here to remind you that Hawaiian shave ice exists (and so do at-home shave ice machines!). If it's not already a staple in your household, this trendy dessert deserves to be added to your warm weather rotation.

What is shave ice?

Three cups of shave ice surrounded by leaves.
Credit: Getty Images / Happy Lark / Reviewed

Opt for a fluffy texture, not crunchy.

Often popularized as a Hawaiian treat, shave ice (yes, shavenot shaved) actually has its roots in Japan. The dessert known as Kakigori (shaved ice flavored with a syrup made from ivy sap) dates back to the 10th century, when Japanese aristocrats enjoyed winter's preserved ice blocks after they'd been shaved and sweetened in the summertime. It became more widely enjoyed by the general Japanese population centuries later, once ice transportation became more commonly accessible.

When Japanese plantation workers started immigrating to Hawaii in the 1900s, the love for Kakigori spread throughout the island. Locals and tourists alike fell in love with the refreshing dessert, and it started to take on a new personality in Hawaii.

Rather than focusing merely on the ice and syrup alone, Hawaiian shave ice can also incorporate a scoop of vanilla ice cream at the bottom or a "snowcap" topping of condensed milk to make the dessert even more decadent.

What makes Hawaiian shave ice so different from the typical snow cones of our childhoods is the way that it's produced: The texture is fluffy—not crunchy—made from ice that's been very finely shaved instead of crushed. This unique texture allows for syrup flavors to be more deeply absorbed, rather than sitting on the top or sinking to the bottom.

How to make shave ice

Close up of a shave ice with coconut topping.
Credit: Getty Images / Wildroze / Reviewed

Pick a topping that best complements the flavor.

If your mouth is officially watering, it's time to start planning for your own shave ice adventure.

First things first: There are plenty of local shops that are serving up fresh and authentic Hawaiian shave ice around the country. So do some community research! Explore your local shave ice scene and see how you can support local businesses, if possible.

Otherwise—if you're ready to get your hands dirty and make some shave ice at home—we're here to help you get started.

To achieve the best quality shave ice, the most crucial component is the right equipment. We tried out Dash's affordable shaved ice maker, but we weren't exactly impressed with the results. The ice texture was too dense, better suited for something like cocktails or oyster serving than making authentic shave ice.

In this case, it's better to invest a little more in order to get the best results. The Hawaiian Shaved Ice machine, for example, has earned a glowing 4.5 star rating from 12,000 Amazon reviewers who claim this machine produces the fine and fluffy textured ice they crave. It can also make snow-cone style ice for whenever you want to switch things up.

The Little Snowie is another popular option for creating soft and fluffy shave ice that's about as close as you can get to Hawaii without boarding a plane. It's a little pricier than other models, but the machine also comes with enough flavor powder to make six pints of syrup, as well as mixing bottles, pour spouts, and eight little shovel spoons—so you won't have to worry about accessories.

But you can also try your hand at making shave ice without a machine. (It just takes some extra effort.) All you need is a good food processor, or an ice mold and sharp knife. For the first method, pulse ice cubes in a food processor—no more than two cups at a time—until a snow-like substance forms.

For the latter method, fill and freeze a large ice mold (like this one), and manually shave the block with a sharp chef's knife or paring knife until you have a pile of fluffy and soft ice to enjoy.

Once your ice is ready, it's time to dress it up. Reviewed contributor and Hawaii native Kiki Aranita recommends topping shave ice with natural flavors instead of syrups, like homemade fruit purees, condensed milk, and li hing mui powder (made from salty dried Chinese plums).

Or you can opt for pre-made purees to save time. You can also scoop some ice cream into the mix, top it with candy, or go beyond these options and experiment with your own flavors. It is summertime after all.

Get the Hawaiian Shaved Ice machine from Amazon for $50

Get the Little Snowie Premium Shaved Ice Maker on Amazon for $209

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