Taro root is a root vegetable food that is cultivated throughout the Polynesian islands, Central and South America and Caribbean where it is considered to be a staple food.
Also known by the names “dasheen” or “kalo,” this large tuber root is the edible part of the plant which is often grown in wet and bog-like fields.
Giant Taro (Alocasia Macrorrhiza)
(image source) Giant Taro (center) as an unusual houseplant
Preparing taro root for consumption consists of much work. A fresh taro root will be covered with many hair-like roots and to most westerners; the appearance is unappealing.
Preparing Taro Root
Taro root is first washed clean and any minor root stalks cut away. Then it is peeled. Gloves should be worn during this peeling process as the raw sap of the taro root can irritate the skin of some sensitive individuals.
Cubed, sliced or chunked, the taro root pieces are steamed or boiled, then mashed to a consistency similar to mashed potatoes. Water is blended to the mashed taro to attain a pleasing consistency that is not too thick or starchy.
Taro root holds a cultural importance in many cultures where it is traditionally grown as a community crop. With its soft mashed-potato-like consistency it is often the first solid food fed to babies coming off breast milk and it is also one of the last foods eaten by the elderly whom have lost all their teeth and can no longer effectively chew solid food.
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The starchy taro plant has several varieties that can be grown on either dry land, or in wetlands and bogs like a rice paddy. When harvesting taro root in the fall, little offshoots from the main tuber are saved and transplanted to grow another crop. These plants grow all year ‘round in the regions where they are farmed although taro is typically harvested in the fall when they have reached maturity.
Taro Root is Delicious
The boiled and mashed taro root, -which is the quintessential Hawaiian food “poi,” has a flavor that is difficult to describe. Some people suggest that taro has a slight nutty flavor, a flavor that is most definitely enhanced when served as a side dish to fish or broiled meats.
In addition to being a useful side dish that compliments the main protein entrée, taro root packs a healthy load of nutrition in itself. High in fiber and low in calories, taro also provides protein as well as calcium and phosphorus to the diet.
Taro root can be used in soups, baked or broiled with a variety of spices and other vegetables. The flavor of boiled or baked taro root is greatly enhanced with the saltiness of the main dish and for the epicurean cook and diner seeking something different, this is worth a try.
Taro can even be made into a potato chip alternative. Taro root is a favorite of vegetarians and health conscious people for its flavor, health benefits, its uniqueness and digestibility where it is often fully a substitute for the more traditional rice or potatoes as a side dish.