Even if you’ve never had a King’s Hawaiian roll, you can probably recognize the bright orange packaging with the crown on it. And if you encounter someone who’s a fan of it, you know that they’re a fan of it. King’s Hawaiian rolls have a devoted fan following who hold them far above all other dinner rolls. And if you’ve never had one—or perhaps even if you have—you may have wondered what exactly it is that’s so special about them.
The major difference that separates them from other dinner rolls is a distinct sweetness. Big King’s Hawaiian fans will also tout the texture, its flaky outside and fluffy interior, as a reason it’s so delectable. But those concepts aren’t necessarily revolutionary, and there’s no magical secret ingredient or recipe, as is the case with the surprising reason Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is so good.
Of course, it certainly is true that the rolls are good, and they never would’ve gained the popularity they did if they weren’t delicious. The original founder, Robert R. Taira, was top of his baking class. But the concept of a fluffy bread roll with a distinctive sweet taste was not an invention of the King’s Hawaiian company, and they don’t act like it was.
King’s Hawaiian began as Robert’s Bakery, in 1950s Hilo, Hawaii. Taira’s recipe, while indeed delicious, was a type of bread already well-known in Hawaii, known as Portuguese sweet bread. The recipe combines milk, sugar, yeast, flour, and sometimes pineapple juice to add that delightful sweetness to the roll, and reflects the strong Portuguese influences in Hawaiian cuisine. Check out our sister site Taste of Home‘s recipe for Hawaiian sweet bread to try it yourself.
People did love Robert’s Bakery, but its initial growth was fairly modest. A decade after first opening, it opened a new location in Honolulu, now called King’s Bakery. As the Honolulu location gained popularity, and Taira noticed that many people were sending the bread back to the mainland as souvenirs, he came up with the idea of opening a bakery in mainland USA. That bakery, the first with the actual “King’s Hawaiian” name, was in Torrance, California, and Taira had found a gold mine.
Essentially, the company that became King’s Hawaiian brought Hawaiian-style sweet rolls to the mainland, and they did it right. Consumers on the mainland, who were new to this sweet type of bread, loved it. Eventually, Taira used his sweet bread recipe for a new product: a 12-pack of Original Dinner Rolls, perfect for mass production. People bought the rolls for hamburgers, pulled pork sandwiches, and regular dinner rolls. The packaging also had an eye-catching, very recognizable, bright orange crown logo that solidified them as a grocery staple.
The fact that King’s Hawaiian originated in Hawaii isn’t surprising, but you probably didn’t know about these other fascinating birthplaces of your favorite foods.