Suppression

Taro

Category: Food

Type

Voluntary

Introduction and description

 

Taro is a common name for several plants in the Araceae family which are used as vegetables for their corms (thickened underground stems), leaves, and leaf-stems (petioles).  Alocasia macrorrhizos or the Giant taro, for example, is widely cultivated in the Pacific islands, as is Cyrtosperma merkusii or the Giant Swamp Taro

However, Colocasia esculenta, known simply as Taro is possibly the most widely cultivated. Taro includes a number of cultivated plants that are also known by the common names eddoe and dasheen.  Linnaeus originally described two species - Colocasia esculenta and Colocasia antiquorum, but many later botanists consider them all to be members of a single, very variable species, the correct name for which is Colocasia esculenta. The specific epithet, esculenta, means "edible" in Latin.

 

Distribution

Colocasia esculenta - Taro

Colocasia esculenta is thought to be native to Southern India and Southeast Asia, but is widely naturalised. It is a perennial, tropical plant primarily grown as a root vegetable for its edible starchy corm, and as a leaf vegetable. It is a food staple in African, Oceanic and South Indian cultures and is believed to have been one of the earliest cultivated plants. Colocasia is thought to have originated in the Indomalaya ecozone, perhaps in East India and Bangladesh, and spread by cultivation eastward into Southeast Asia, East Asia and the Pacific Islands; westward to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean Basin; and then southward and westward from there into East Africa and West Africa, whence to the Caribbean and Americas. It is known by many local names and often referred to as "elephant ears" when grown as an ornamental plant.  Botanical synonyms astound by their number:

Alocasia dussii Dammer

Alocasia illustris W.Bull

Aron colocasium (L.) St.-Lag.

Arum chinense L.

Arum colocasia L.

Arum colocasioides Desf.

Arum esculentum L.

Arum lividum Salisb.

Arum nymphaeifolium (Vent.) Roxb.

Arum peltatum Lam.

Caladium acre R.Br.

Caladium colocasia (L.) W.Wight nom. illeg.

Caladium colocasioides (Desf.) Brongn.

Caladium esculentum (L.) Vent.

Caladium glycyrrhizum Fraser

Caladium nymphaeifolium Vent.

Caladium violaceum Desf.

Caladium violaceum Engl.

Calla gaby Blanco

Calla virosa Roxb.

Colocasia acris (R.Br.) Schott

Colocasia aegyptiaca Samp.

Colocasia colocasia (L.) Huth nom. inval.

Colocasia euchlora K.Koch & Linden

Colocasia formosana Hayata

Colocasia gracilis Engl.

Colocasia himalensis Royle

Colocasia konishii Hayata

Colocasia neocaledonica Van Houtte

Colocasia nymphaeifolia (Vent.) Kunth

Colocasia peltata (Lam.) Samp.

Colocasia vera Hassk.

Colocasia violacea (Desf.) auct.

Colocasia virosa (Roxb.) Kunth

Colocasia vulgaris Raf.

Leucocasia esculenta (L.) Nakai

Steudnera virosa (Roxb.) Prain

Zantedeschia virosa (Roxb.) K.Koch

 

 

Alocasia Macrorrhiza Flower

Taro was once consumed by the early Romans in much the same way the potato is today and indeed it makes a very good potato substitute, despite the long preparation time needed. The Romans called this root vegetable colocasia. After the fall of the Roman Empire the use of taro dwindled in Europe,  largely due to the decline of trade and commerce with Egypt, previously controlled by Rome, where it was grown.  In Greece, taro still grows on Icaria. Icarians credit taro for saving them from famine during World War II. They boil it until tender and serve it as a salad.

Alocasia macrorrhizos – Giant Taro

is native to rainforests from Malaysia to Queensland and has long been cultivated on many Pacific islands and elsewhere in the tropics. In a 2012 study, it was found out that the domesticated giant taro originated from the Philippines.   Common names include Giant Taro and Elephant Ear Taro, while words for the plant in the various Polynesian languages include Kape (Futunan, Niuean, Tongan, Wallisian), ʻApe (Cook Islands Māori, Tahitian, Hawaiian), "ta'amu" in Samoan language, and Pulaka (Tuvalu). In Australia it is known as the "cunjevoi" (although that term also refers to a marine animal). The varieties recognized in Tahiti are the Ape oa, haparu, maota, and uahea. Botanical synonyms include:

  • Alocasia indica (Lour.) Spach
  • Alocasia macrorrhizos var. rubra (Hassk.) Furtado
  • Alocasia macrorrhizos var. variegata (K.Koch & C.D.Bouché) Furtado
  • Alocasia plumbea Van Houtte
  • Alocasia variegata K.Koch & C.D.Bouché
  • Arum indicum Lour.
  • Arum macrorrhizon L.
  • Colocasia indica (Lour.) Kunth[1]

Cyrtosperma merkusii - Giant Swamp Taro

Cyrtosperma merkusii or giant swamp taro, is a crop grown throughout Oceania and into South and Southeast Asia. It is a riverine and "swamp crop" similar to taro, but "with bigger leaves and larger, coarser roots."  It is known as puraka in Cook Islands, "Lak" in Yap (FSM), Babai in Kiribati, pula’a in Samoa, via kan in Fiji, Pulaka in Tokelau and Tuvalu, simiden in Chuuk, swam taro in Papua New Guinea, navia in Vanuatu and palawan in the Philippines.  In Nepal, Giant Swamp Taro is called mane and grows in the tropical and sub tropical forests along stream banks.

In the harsh atoll environments of the Central Pacific, especially Tuvalu and Kiribati, swamp taro is an important source of carbohydrates in a diet dominated by fish and coconut. Its cultivation is difficult and time-consuming, and the plant has deep cultural as well as practical significance. The cultivation of Pulaka in Tuvalu, and babai in Kiribati, is an important cultural and culinary tradition, now under threat from rising sea levels.

The same species is also known by the names Cyrtosperma lasioides, Cyrtosperma chamissonis and Cyrtosperma edule.

Description

Colocasia esculenta – Taro

Like most root crops, taro and eddoes do well in deep, moist or even swampy soils where the annual rainfall exceeds 2,500 mm. Eddoes are more resistant to drought and cold. The crop attains maturity within six to twelve months after planting in dry-land cultivation and after twelve to fifteen months in wetland cultivation. The crop is harvested when the plant height decreases and the leaves turn yellow. These signals are usually less distinct in flooded taro cultivation.

The rhizomes of Colocasia esculenta  can be of different shapes and sizes.

Leaves up to 40×24.8 cm, sprout directly from the rhizome, and are dark green above and light green beneath, triangular-ovate, sub-rounded and mucronate at apex, tip of the basal lobes rounded or sub-rounded.

Petiole 0.8 -1.2 m high. Spathe up to 25 cm long. Spadix about 3/5 as long as the spathe, flowering parts up to 8 mm in diameter. Female portion at the fertile ovaries intermixed with sterile white ones. Neuters above the females, rhomboid or irregular oblong. Male portion above the neuter. Synandrium lobed, cells 6 or 8. Appendage shorter than the male portion.

Taro can be grown in paddy fields where water is abundant or in upland situations where water is supplied by rainfall or supplemental irrigation. It is one of the few crops (along with rice and lotus) that can be grown under flooded conditions. This is due to air spaces in the petiole, which permit underwater gaseous exchange with the atmosphere, as long as the water is cool and flowing.

Alocasia macrorrhizos – Giant Taro

 

The Giant Taro is a large, erect herb.

The leaves of Alocasia Macrorrhiza push out of the centre of the plant from within the innermost Alocasia leaf stem. After the leaves unroll and open, the tips of the Alocasia leaves can reach heights of 10 and 12 feet! The Alocasia leaves are very impressive with widths about 2 feet and lengths reaching 4 feet. In some cases even larger.

As the Alocasia leaves die off a dry brown husk will remain. If the husk were to be removed you would see a ring under the husk. This ring is a scar from the Alocasia leaf that was there. The rings are a good indicator of how many leaves the Alocasia Macrorrhiza plant produced.

When actively growing, the Alocasia stalk grows larger with each new leaf. Under tropical growing conditions, the Alocasia stalk will grow to about 4 inches in diameter or more. The Alocasia stalk can reach heights of about 6 feet or more in warmer tropical climates.

Cyrtosperma merkusii - Giant Swamp Taro

Giant swamp taro is the largest of the root crop plants known collectively as Taro, which are cultivated throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Although outwardly similar to Colocasia esculenta, the most widely cultivated taro, it belongs to a different genus, though the same family. The plant may reach heights of 4–5 metres, with leaves and roots much larger than Colocasia esculenta. It is relatively resistant to disease and pests but is susceptible to taro beetle. The corm, which can reach weights of 80 kg or more, is starchy and cream or pink in colour, with a taste similar to sweet potato, though it is drier in texture.

Giant swamp taro has adapted to growth within fresh water and coastal swamps. It exhibits some shade tolerance. It is a slow growing crop which can take up to 15 years to mature.  Giant swamp taro is nearly the only carbohydrate crop that can be cultivated on low-lying coral atolls, where it is grown in purpose-built swamp pits dug to below the level of the freshwater lens.   Climate change is affecting its cultivation in two ways; more frequent droughts increase the salinity of the freshwater lens, and more extreme high tides and coastal erosion lead to saltwater intrusions where seawater enters the cultivation pits.

Medicinal uses

Taro rosti

The observations in the healing section show that the different varieties of taro have great healing potential.  They are also very rich in nutrients – minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and even vitamins, the leaves are especially rich in vitamins – notice the high levels of vitamin C.  In areas of the world where nutrients are scarce, but water isn’t, taro is an exceptionally important crop.  The following tables come from the USDA Nutrients database.

Taro, cooked, without salt

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)

Energy

594 kJ (142 kcal)

Carbohydrates

34.6 g

Sugars

0.49

Dietary fiber

5.1 g

Fat

0.11 g

Protein

0.52 g

Vitamins

Thiamine (B1)

(9%) 0.107 mg

Riboflavin (B2)

(2%) 0.028 mg

Niacin (B3)

(3%) 0.51 mg

Pantothenic acid (B5)

(7%) 0.336 mg

Vitamin B6

(25%) 0.331 mg

Folate (B9)

(5%) 19 μg

Vitamin C

(6%) 5 mg

Vitamin E

(20%) 2.93 mg

Minerals

Calcium

(2%) 18 mg

Iron

(6%) 0.72 mg

Magnesium

(8%) 30 mg

Manganese

(21%) 0.449 mg

Phosphorus

(11%) 76 mg

Potassium

(10%) 484 mg

Zinc

(3%) 0.27 mg

Units  μg = micrograms • mg = milligrams

IU = International units

 

Taro leaves, raw

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)

Energy

177 kJ (42 kcal)

 

Carbohydrates

6.7 g

Sugars

3 g

Dietary fiber

3.7 g

 

Fat

0.74 g

Protein

5 g

Vitamins

Vitamin A equiv.

beta-carotene

lutein zeaxanthin

(30%) 241 μg

(27%) 2895 μg

1932 μg

Thiamine (B1)

(18%) 0.209 mg

Riboflavin (B2)

(38%) 0.456 mg

Niacin (B3)

(10%) 1.513 mg

Vitamin B6

(11%) 0.146 mg

Folate (B9)

(32%) 126 μg

Vitamin C

(63%) 52 mg

Vitamin E

(13%) 2.02 mg

Vitamin K

(103%) 108.6 μg

 

Minerals

Calcium

(11%) 107 mg

Iron

(17%) 2.25 mg

Magnesium

(13%) 45 mg

Manganese

(34%) 0.714 mg

Phosphorus

(9%) 60 mg

Potassium

(14%) 648 mg

Zinc

(4%) 0.41 mg

Units μg = micrograms • mg = milligrams

IU = International units

Method

 

All Taros contain Oxalic acid in the root – not the leaf.  This means that the root if used has to be prepared with some care.  Taro is edible and nutritious if cooked for a long time, but its sap irritates the skin due to the oxalate crystals, or raphides which are needle like, so the roots are best prepared with care!  According to Dr Duke’s phytochemical database:

OXALIC-ACID Root 1,334 ppm; - Acaricide ; Antiseptic ; CNS-Paralytic ; Fatal ; Hemostatic ; Irritant; Pesticide ; Renotoxic ; Varroacide

Which looks none too promising – especially the fatal bit.  There is even an Hawaiian saying: ʻAi no i ka ʻape he maneʻo no ka nuku (The eater of ʻape will have an itchy mouth).  Perhaps equally alarming Susan Scott and Craig Thomas have included the Giant Taro in their book Poisonous Plants of Paradise: First Aid and Medical Treatment of Injuries from Hawaii's Plants. And yet Alocasia species are commonly found in marketplaces in Samoa and Tonga and other parts of Polynesia.

Taro puffs with a seafood filling

So there has to be a secret and one secret is that the leaves and stem are eaten instead!  The stem of the Giant Taro, for example, is peeled and used as a cooked vegetable, being added to soups and stews. In Bangladesh taro is a very popular vegetable known as kochu (কচু) or mukhi (মুখি). It is usually cooked with small prawns or the ilish fish into a curry, but some dishes are cooked with dried fish. Its green leaves, kochu pata (কচু পাতা), and stem, kochu (কচু), are also eaten as a favourite dish and usually ground to a paste or finely chopped to make shak - but they must be boiled well beforehand.

However, there is also a means of making the root edible. Taro root is rendered safe to eat by thorough cooking, boiling in water or by steeping in cold water overnight.  In each case the water in which it was boiled or steeped must be discarded.

The roots of the Giant swamp taro need to be cooked for hours to reduce toxicity in the corms, but they are so rich in nutrients, especially calcium, that the effort is worthwhile. In Nepal, Giant Swamp Taro is gathered in January-February and all plant parts (leaf, stem, rhizomes) are savoured after being boiled and roasted. “The stem requires prolonged boiling and the water is replaced once to remove irritating chemicals. If cooked carefully, the rhizomes taste like taro and the leaves like spinach. But without careful washing, the food causes an unpleasant tingling or scratchy sensation”.

Bear this in mind when looking at the following recipes – all taro mentioned has first to be prepared – soaked or boiled before incorporation in these suggestions.

Crispy duck breasts with taro

4 duck breasts with skin on

3 tablespoons fresh ginger grated

6 cloves of garlic crushed

2 tblspns soy sauce

1 cup of sherry

2 tablespoons of sesame oil

1 ½  cup julienned scallions, or more

2 pounds of taro root cubed

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 leek, roughly chopped

1 stalk celery

1/2 a carrot cut into half-inch pieces

2 cups chicken or duck stock

 

Score duck breasts, combine ginger and garlic in bowl, add duck breasts and cover with ginger garlic mixture.   Add soy sauce, sherry &  sesame oil.  Leave to marinade overnight.

Using a large frying pan on medium to high heat, place the duck breasts skin side down and dry fry until the fat is almost completely rendered and there is only a thin, crisp skin.  Turn duck breasts over. Shut heat off and leave the breast to sit in the pan and allow to rest.

Meanwhile boil the taro in water until tender.  Strain and either pulse in a food processor, or hand mash.  Add little dabs of butter as you go, until the mash is smooth and lump free.  Season with salt and pepper.

Place leek, celery and carrot pieces in saucepan, add stock and cook vegetables for 5 minutes.  Add soy marinade, continue cooking until vegetables are done but not too soft.

To serve, slice each duck breast place in a shallow bowl, ladle in the vegetables and stock, then add the taro mash.  Sprinkle with scallions

 

 Taro chips

These chips can be served with hummus or any other sort of dip eg a sour cream dip or avocado dip.  They can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Rice bran oil

Taro root, peeled  and slice it into very thin rounds

Sea salt

Black pepper freshly ground

 

Heat the oven to 400°F

Place thin layer of oil into one or more roasting tins. 

Place the slices in a single layer in the prepared tins—the slices can be touching but should not overlap. Brush the top of each round with a very thin layer of oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 12 minutes. Rotate the pans between racks if you use more than one pan.

Bake until the edges of the taro chips curl up slightly and are just starting to turn golden brown.

Place chips in a large serving dish let the chips cool until crisp.

 

Taro au gratin

The exact quantities here do not matter that much, you adjust them according to taste, thus for example if you love bacon, you have lots of bacon, if you love cheese, then you add more cheese. 

Taro root about 400 gms, peeled and cubed

Bacon at least 3 slices

Butter   20 gms

Milk       200 ml

Hard cheese eg parmesan, cheddar grated

 

Grill or fry the bacon until crisp, using scissors cut into pieces.

Boil the taro root until soft, drain and mash with butter until smooth.

Add milk to mash and stir until thickened.

Add bacon to mash, place mixture in large oven proof dish

Smother with grated cheese

Put in oven at highish heat until cheese is melted and bubbly

Serve with a green salad or green vegetable

 

Spicy Indian Roasted Taro

These can be served with BBQd lamb chops or grilled meat, but they go equally well with other Indian vegetarian dishes, onion sambar for example, or a spinach dish.

About 12-14 small Taro Roots

½ tsp mustard seeds

½   split black gram (urad dal)

1 tsp chilli powder (or as per taste)

¼ tsp turmeric powder

salt to taste

about 3 tsp vegetable oil

pinch asafoetida

Ghee

 

Turn on oven to medium heat.

Boil the unpeeled taro roots for about 8 minutes until partly cooked but not mushy.  Drain and leave to cool.

When cool peel off the skin.

In a plastic [zip lock] bag place chili powder, turmeric and 1 tablespoon of the oil, shake and mix well

Now add taro root and toss until root is coated well.

Take large roasting pan and add remaining oil, put in oven for a minute, then add coated taro to hot oil [care needed here it will spit].  

Roast for about 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until crispy.

Heat some ghee in a pan, when hot add mustard seeds and split gram, once they pop, add asafoetida.

Place roasted taro in a serving dish, add salt to taste and pour over the mustard seed ‘sauce’

 

 

 Chinese basic pork and taro soup

I’m not sure what is especially Chinese about this soup, but it is very tasty, even though it appears very simple.  The soup is used as a basic recipe to which other ingredients can then be added such as shi-itake mushrooms, or a pinch of five spice powder, when the stock is added.  Another suggestion was to add fresh chopped coriander and swiss chard.

400g lean pork in bite sized pieces

400g taro, peeled and cubed

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

2 stalks spring onion, white part minced and green part chopped

½  teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

6 cups well flavoured chicken or pork stock

1 tablespoon cooking oil

 

Marinate pork with garlic, white part of spring onion, salt, black pepper, for 15 minutes.

In a casserole, stir fry pork on high in 1 tablespoon cooking oil until surface of meat is no longer pink.

Add stock and bring to a simmer.

Switch heat to medium-low and add taro, cooking until taro is soft, occasionally skimming off the scum. About 15-20 minutes.

Serve and garnish with spring onion.

 

 

Kosu lati and other Indian dishes

In Assam, a north-eastern state of India, taro is known as "kosu".

The leave buds called "Kosu lati" are cooked with sour dried fruits called "Thekera" or sometimes with Tamarind or with little amount of pulses and sometimes, fishes. Similar dishes are prepared from long root like structures called "Kosu thuri". A fried dish is also made from its flower (Kosu kala).
In the state of Maharashtra, the leaves, called alu che paana, are de-veined, rolled with a paste of gram flour, tamarind paste, red chili powder, turmeric, coriander, asafoetida, and salt, and then steamed. These can be eaten whole or cut into pieces, or shallow fried and eaten as a snack known as alu chi wadi. Alu chya panan chi patal bhaji a lentil and colocasia leaves curry, is also popular.

In Kerala, a state in southern India, taro corms are known as ചേമ്പ് കിഴങ്ങ് chembu-kizhangu. Taro is used as a staple food, as a side dish, or as an ingredient in various side dishes like sambar. As a staple food, it is steamed and eaten with a spicy chutney of green chillies, tamarind, and shallots. The leaves and stems of certain varieties of taro are used as a vegetable in Kerala.

In the north Indian state of Uttarakhand and neighbouring Nepal, taro is considered a healthy food cooked in a variety of ways. The delicate Gaderi taro of Kumaun, especially from Lobanj region is much sought after. Most commonly it is boiled in tamarind water till tender, then cubes are diced out, which are stir fried in mustard oil with methi (fenugreek) leaves.

Samoan "fa'ausi” [a dessert]

Taro is considered the staple starch of traditional Polynesian cuisine. The tuber itself is prepared in various ways, including baking, steaming in earth ovens (umu or imu), boiling, and frying. The famous Hawaiian staple poi is made by mashing steamed taro roots with water.

 Taro also features in traditional desserts such as Samoan "fa'ausi", which consists of grated, cooked taro mixed with coconut milk and brown sugar.

 

Related observations