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I live in Las Vegas, which is known as the 9th Island, because of all of the people who have transferred here from Hawaii, including my husband’s family.
Fortunately, we are surrounded by delicious, authentic Hawaiian restaurants, like L&L Hawaiian BBQ and Aloha Kitchen, where I can order a lunch plate of kalbi ribs, loco moco, kalua pork and huli huli chicken whenever I want.
But none of those dishes would be complete without a scoopful of white sticky rice and Hawaiian mac salad.
What is Hawaiian macaroni salad?
I lived in the South for most of my life, so macaroni salad to me usually had hard-boiled eggs and chunks of onion, celery and sometimes peppers.
Hawaiian-style macaroni salad, on the other hand, is much sweeter with shredded carrots and shredded sweet Maui onions, and it’s super creamy because it’s made with a lot of mayonnaise.
There are a few different types of mac salad in Hawaii. Some recipes include tuna. Others are made with cooked potatoes for a potato-mac salad.
This easy recipe is the classic version that you’ll find at most local restaurants or food trucks in Hawaii.
What kind of mayonnaise should I use?
Upon surveying many Islanders, I’ve been told that Best Foods Mayonnaise is the preferred mayo for Hawaiian Macaroni Salad. I’m also a fan of using Duke’s and Kewpie mayo for this recipe.
PRO TIP: You many not realize it, but Best Foods is only distributed by that name West of the Rocky Mountains. East of the Rocky Mountains, the mayo is labeled as Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. But they’re the same thing.
In addition to mayonnaise, I also use Miracle Whip in my recipe. Some people might find that controversial, but Miracle Whip is a perfect addition, because it’s sweeter than mayo, and actually has less oil and therefore fewer calories.
Plus, it’s the way my husband prefers it, and his palate hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
If you prefer to use just mayo, go for it. Swap out that 1/2 cup of Miracle Whip.
- Macaroni Noodles: For authentic Hawaiian mac salad, use elbow macaroni noodles. You’ll need 4 cups of uncooked noodles, which is a 16-ounce box or bag.
- Mayo: Use Best Foods or Hellman’s mayonnaise.
- Miracle Whip: This adds a little extra tang and sweetness to the salad.
- Milk: For the richest flavor, use whole milk.
- White Vinegar: My family has always used white vinegar, but you could also use apple cider vinegar.
- Granulated Sugar: Hawaiian macaroni salad is tangy and sweet, so don’t forget the sugar.
- Sweet Onion: If you can find a Maui sweet onion, great! Otherwise, use a Vidalia onion or other sweet onion.
- Carrots: You’ll need a 1/4 cup or shredded carrots, which should be about 1 large carrot.
Substitutions: Instead of the Miracle Whip, you can use all mayonnaise. You can substitute the white vinegar with apple cider vinegar, which is a little sweeter.
See the full recipe card below for servings and a full list of ingredients.
How to cook Hawaiian macaroni salad
You can definitely make this great side dish ahead of time, and in fact, it’s even better when you do. The secret is to hold back some of the mayo.
- STEP ONE: Start by cooking the macaroni noodles in a large pot of salted water following the package directions. Overcook them just a bit, because that helps them absorb the sauce. Drain excess water and cool for about 10 minutes.
PRO TIP: As the cooked macaroni pasta is cooling, stir the noodles occasionally so they don’t stick together.
- STEP TWO: While the noodles are cooking, use a cheese grater to shred the sweet onion and carrot.
- STEP THREE: In a small bowl, microwave the vinegar and sugar for 1 minute to dissolve the sugar.
- STEP FOUR: In a large bowl, mix together 1 cup of the mayonnaise along with the Miracle Whip, milk and vinegar-sugar mixture to make the creamy dressing.
- STEP FIVE: To the bowl, gently stir in the cooked pasta, grated onions and shredded carrots. Season with salt.
- STEP SIX: Chill for at least 1 hour. Right before serving, stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of mayonnaise.
PRO TIP: When you first cook the noodles and add the ingredients, the noodles will start to absorb the mayo. After it’s been in the fridge for an hour or so, it won’t be quite as creamy because of that absorption.
So right before you serve it, mix in a 1/2 cup of mayo, and you’ll bring all that creaminess back to life.
How to serve Hawaiian macaroni salad
After you’ve stirred in the final 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, Hawaiian macaroni salad is the perfect side dish to go with your favorite Hawaiian BBQ recipes.
To make an authentic Hawaiian plate lunch, use a large ice cream scoop to shape it into a ball. Serve it with a scoop of white rice and garnish with diced green onions.
This Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
By day 4 or 5, the noodles will have absorbed more of the mayo. If that happens, you can stir in a couple more tablespoons of mayo or a little milk to revive the creaminess.
Mac salad doesn’t freeze well. If you don’t need this large of a batch, you can cut the recipe in half.
GCG Pro Pitmaster Tips
- Overcook the noodles to make them more tender, so they absorb the mayo
- The recipe calls for white vinegar, but you can also use apple cider vinegar
- Grate the carrots and onion; they’re added for subtle flavor, not texture
Frequently Asked Questions
Authentic Hawaiian macaroni salad is made with simple ingredients, including a sweet and tangy dressing of vinegar, white sugar and lots of mayonnaise.
Compared to Southern macaroni salad, which sometimes includes mustard, hard-boiled eggs and chunks of onions and celery, Hawaiian-style mac salad is sweeter and creamier.
Yes. This Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe calls for 1/2 cup of milk. You are welcome to use a plant-based milk alternative to make the recipe dairy free.
Hawaiian macaroni salad should be served cold.
The Hawaiian Islands are made up of eight major islands. So many people have transferred from Hawaii to Las Vegas, that the city is sometimes referred to as the 9th island.
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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- 4 cups macaroni noodles, uncooked
- 6 tbsp white vinegar
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup miracle whip
- 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise, divided
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tbsp sweet onion, shredded
- 1/4 cup carrots, shredded
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Cook the macaroni is salted boiling water. Overcook them just a bit, so they'll absorb flavors better. Drain and let cool for about 10 minutes, stirring occassionally, so they don't stick together.
- While the pasta is cooking, microwave the vinegar and sugar for 1 minute to dissolve the sugar.
- In a large bowl, mix together the Miracle Whip, 1 cup mayonnaise, milk and vinegar-sugar mixture.
- Fold in the macaroni, carrots and onions. Season with salt.
- Chill for at least 1 hour. Right before serving, stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of mayonnaise.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.