Here's an easy and healthy Hawaiian rolls recipe that's sweetened using fruit (applesauce, bananas and crushed pineapples). These delicious rolls are fluffy and soft, with a subtle tropical flavor that comes from the natural flavors of the fruit puree and coconut oil which is used to substitute butter. Egg yolks are added for extra richness and golden color, but they can also be replaced with full-fat coconut milk!
Did you know the two-bite-sized pillows, known for their pineapple aftertaste, were created by Portuguese immigrants in Hawaii sometime in the late 19th century? Portuguese bakers began using pineapple juice as a sweetener, as sugar was scarce in the Aloha State.
Well, it’s time we contribute to the historical recipe and make our own healthier Hawaiian rolls — no more overly sweet pineapple juice; let’s get creative here!
For this Hawaiian roll recipe, you need flour, yeast, salt, sugar, a few tablespoons of coconut oil and our fruit — bananas for sweetness, applesauce for moisture and pineapple purée for the rolls’ traditional tropical flavor. Alternatively, brush the rolls with egg yolks for richness and a golden color.
These are a healthier version of the regular homemade Hawaiian rolls, so serve them as you’d serve your favorite rolls. For me, that means making mean sliders with BBQ jackfruit, but that’s another story. Let’s make Hawaiian rolls, this time healthier.
Here's why I love this recipe
- soft and fluffy
- sweetened using fruit (applesauce, bananas and crushed pineapples)
- easy to prepare if you have a stand mixer or bread machine
- great for picky eaters and kids
- can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Ingredients Used to Make This Healthy Hawaiian Rolls Recipe
**I've linked some of these ingredients to amazon.com to give you an idea of what they are, but you should also be able to find them in your local grocery store (usually, the baking aisle, or the natural & organic food section). They are also affiliate links, which means that I earn a commission as an Amazon Associate if you decide to purchase the items. The price will be the same for you, link or no link 🙂
- Bread Flour - I used bread flour for this recipe (I used King Arthur Bread Flour), which I prefer and highly recommend for the best texture and structure.
Can I substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour?
Bread Recipes made with bread flour results in taller, firmer rolls that have a more substantial bite. The gluten in the bread flour also forms longer strands during the kneading process, which you'll often see clinging like melted cheese when you pull the rolls apart. Fun fact: In South Korea, this stringy bread texture is compared to how cooked chicken breast tears apart! Bread recipes made with all-purpose flour, on the other hand, produce softer, more tender rolls that are light and airy in texture, with shorter gluten strands.
- Please read the note in the substitution section below if using alternative flours.
- Instant Yeast - you can find instant yeast in the baking section near the flours. My favorite is SAF Instant Premium Yeast, which works quickly and consistently produces great results. I recommend using instant yeast over active yeast for this recipe since active yeast (unlike instant yeast) needs to be activated in water, which we don't add until the very end.
- Sugar - I used raw cane sugar, but you can use regular granulated white sugar, or healthier alternatives like coconut, date, or maple sugars which are less processed and more natural. I also sometimes like to use honey powder.
- For yeasted breads like this one, I would not recommend using sugar-free substitutes such as monk fruit sweetener or stevia powder since they can cause the bread to not rise properly. If you prefer a lower sugar recipe, you're welcome to leave out the sugar. The bread might taste slightly plain, but it will not significantly impact the shape or texture of the bread.
- Read note on liquid sweeteners down at the substitution section
- Salt - Pink Himalayan salt is what I have at home, so it’s what I use, but you can use any kind for this recipe.
- Mashed Bananas - I roughly mashed the bananas with a fork before using. The bananas taste sweetest when they are ripe with brown spots.
- Applesauce - you can use any kind or any flavored applesauce. I used regular applesauce (sweetened).
- Crushed Pineapple - I used canned crushed pineapple for this recipe. You're also welcome to use finely chopped pineapples or puree fresh pineapples in a small blender to use instead.
- Coconut Oil - You can use regular coconut oil, or refined coconut oil, like this one, which has a neutral scent and flavor (this is great for people who do not like the distinct smell and flavor of coconut. You can also use other oils in this recipe such as light olive oil, avocado oil, or regular canola oil. You can also use plant-based, dairy-free butter or regular butter instead.
- Egg yolks - I added egg yolks to add extra richness and golden color to the Hawaiian rolls, but it's not required and can be substituted with ¼ cup of full-fat coconut milk if you're looking for vegan options.
- I used a KitchenAid Stand Mixer with a dough hook to knead the dough. You're also welcome to use a bread machine, or knead the dough by hand.
More Applesauce Recipes (HERE)
How to Make
Healthy Hawaiian Rolls Recipe
Mix in the flour and yeast into the bowl of the stand mixer. Add sugar and salt.
Add the wet ingredients - the fruit purees (applesauce, mashed bananas and crushed pineapples) and the egg yolks (read note on ingredients for substitutions).
Start to knead the dough at a low setting (speed 2) for about a minute.
If there are still dry ingredients remaining, add water 1 Tbsp at a time* until all the ingredients are just barely combined, with no dry ingredients remaining.
*The water you need can vary depending on the protein content of the flour, the water content in the puree, as well as the humidity and temperature of the kitchen. Be sure to add one tablespoon at a time, so you don’t overhydrate the dough.
Add the melted coconut oil and continue to knead for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough pulls away from the bowl and forms a somewhat sticky, but smooth, supple ball.
Remove the finished dough from the mixer bowl and place the dough in a lightly greased bowl.
Cover and let rise until doubled, about 60-90 minutes.
***note: It's best if the bowl is put in a warm place, and personally, I prefer using the oven that's been preheated for just a quick 10 seconds and spritzed with some water. The moist and warm conditions are perfect for the rolls to rise without it drying out. You can also place a bowl of hot water inside the oven so that the steam helps to maintain the humidity. This is especially useful during the winter months, when the conditions are cold and dry.
Punch down the dough, then remove from bowl. Place on a generously floured surface and divide into 9 equal-sized pieces.
Roll into balls, and place each rolls in a well-greased square pan. ( I used a 8 x8 inch pyrex glass pan).
Let the dough rise again for 40-60 minutes until puffy. Toward the end of the rise time, preheat the oven to 350F / 180C
For the best color, apply egg wash (made using 1 egg yolk plus 2 Tbsp of water)
Bake the rolls for 15 minutes, then cover / tent the rolls with aluminum foil to prevent over-browning, and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the interior of the rolls reaches 190°F.
Take the rolls out of the oven, and cool it slightly before serving. Enjoy!
Recipe Variations and Optional Add Ins for Healthy Hawaiian rolls recipe:
- Add more flavor! For extra richness, apply melted butter on top of the rolls after they're baked. You can also use melted butter instead of coconut oil when making the rolls.
- Turn them into hamburger buns - instead of baking this recipe in a square pan, divide the dough into 12 pieces, shape them into rolls and bake them on a sheet pan, spaced out by 2 inches. You'll have to adjust the baking time (about 15 minutes for the batch).
How to Make this Hawaiian Rolls Recipe Healthier
- Make this even healthier by adding a handful of nuts, seeds and old-fashioned oats to add texture and nutrition. Here are some ideas
- Nuts - chopped walnuts, pecans, cashews
- Seeds - poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds or chiaseeds
- Dried Fruit - chopped apricot, raisins, cranberries, dried cherries, candied ginger, citrus zests, etc.
- Want to add more fiber? Substitute white whole wheat flour for up to half of the bread flour called for in this recipe. You'll need to add a few more tablespoons of water to adjust the hydration since whole wheat flour absorbs more water than white flour.
Note on Substitutions
- Unfortunately, gluten-free flours cannot be substituted for bread flour in this recipe.
- While bread flour is highly recommended, all-purpose flour can be used instead with 1 tsp of vital wheat gluten for every cup of flour.
- Liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey or molasses can replace all of the sugar in this recipe, but it makes the dough softer and more difficult to handle since it contributes additional moisture. Increase bread flour by 1-2 Tablespoons to adjust.
What are some ways you can eat and serve these Hawaiian Rolls?
- Plain and warm, right out of the oven
- Warmed in the oven the next day, served with jam, marmalade, honey or butter
- Sliced and stuffed with BBQ meats or jackfruit or used for any sliders recipe.
- And if you do get any leftovers or stale rolls left, use it for bread puddings.
How to Store Healthy Hawaiian rolls:
- You can store Hawaiian Rolls, well wrapped, and at room temperature for up to 3-4 days.
- For longer storage, you can place them in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container and freeze up to 3 months, then defrost them at room temperature or microwave before eating.
- Weigh your flour for the best results. 1 cup of bread flour = 120 grams / 4.23 oz. This is recommended since scooping the flour directly from the bag can can pack the flour into the measuring cup, and this means you'll end up with more flour than what's called for in the recipe. If you don't have a kitchen scale, you can measure the flour by spooning pre-sifted flour into the measuring cup, then using the straight end of the spoon to level the flour across the top to sweep off the excess.
- Baking time (as well as serving size) will vary based on the size of your baking pan, the material (silicone vs metal) of the pan. If you're not sure whether the rolls are ready, you can insert a quick read thermometer into the bread - a finished loaf will register 190 F (or 88 C).
- To make this recipe in the bread machine: add all the dry ingredients into the machine, stir briefly before adding the wet ingredients. The machine can be set for basic. Check the dough for consistency and adjust by adding additional water (or flour) before the end of the first kneading cycle. If you want to add additional nuts or dried fruits, leave them aside, and only them 3 minutes before the end of the second kneading cycle.
More Bread Recipes (HERE)
Healthy Hawaiian Rolls (Made with Applesauce, Banana and Pineapple Puree)
- 8 x 8 inch square pan
- Mix in the flour and yeast into the the bowl of the stand mixer. Add sugar and salt.
- Add the fruit (applesauce, mashed bananas, and crushed pineapple) and the 3 egg yolks
- Start to knead the dough at a low setting (speed 2) for about a minute, until all the ingredients are combined.
- Add the melted coconut oil.
- Continue to knead for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough pulls away from the bowl and forms a smooth, supple ball.Additional 1-2 Tablespoons of bread flour (or additional water) may be necessary depending on the protein content of the bread flour, the water content in the fruit purees, as well as the humidity and temperature of the kitchen.
- Remove the finished dough from the mixer bowl and place in a lightly greased bowl.
- Cover and let rise until doubled, about 60-90 minutes****
- Punch down the dough, then remove from bowl. Place on a generously floured surface and divide into 9 equal sized pieces.
- Roll into balls and place in a well-oiled bread pan.
- Let the dough rise again for 40-60 minutes until puffy. Toward the end of the rise time, preheat the oven to 350F / 180C
- Optional: To add some color and shine to the rolls as it bakes, gently brush the tops of the rolls with egg wash (1 egg yolk plus 2 Tbsp of water).
- Bake the rolls for 15-20 minutes, or until the interior of the middle roll reaches 190°F.
- Take the rolls out of the oven, turn it out on a rack, and cool it slightly before slicing.
- You can store these rolls, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3-4 days. For longer storage, you can place them in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container and freeze up to 3 months, then defrost them at room temperature or microwave before eating.
- For yeasted breads, I would not recommend using sugar-free substitutes such as monk fruit sweetener or stevia powder since they can cause the bread to not rise properly. If you prefer a lower sugar recipe, you're welcome to leave out the sugar. The bread might taste slightly plain, but it will not significantly impact the shape or texture of the bread.