The Taro Root: A Versatile Tuber

Explains what a taro root is, where and how it is grown, and provides common uses for it.

The taro root, also known as "dasheen", "eddo" and "kalo", is cultivated in many areas of the world including West Africa, Asia, Central America, South America and the Caribbean and Polynesian islands. A staple among many of the people who reside in these geographic regions, taro root is most well-known as the ingredient of the Hawaiian dish "poi", which is made from steaming or boiling the taro root then mashing it into a paste. Because of the taro root's popularity with the early civilizations that inhabited Hawaii, more than 350 varieties of taro root were previously grown on the islands. However, today that number has dwindled down to seven to twelve varieties.

Taro root is a starchy tuber vegetable that looks like, and can be used similar to, a potato. It does, however, have a hairy outer coating on its surface that is similar to the coating on a coconut. Because of this, when preparing to use a taro root, the root's outer skin must first be removed. This procedure is easy to do. However, some individual's can acquire a skin irritation towards the juices that are secreted by the taro root as its skin is being removed. Therefore, to be on the safe side, when peeling a taro root's skin, use protective rubber gloves. Additionally, because taro root can be toxic in its raw state, always cook it before using.

A taro root can be grown on both dry and wet land, as in a bog. The type of taro root that is used to grow in wet lands can also grow on dry land. This is not the case, however, with the type of taro root that is cultivated to grow specifically on dry land. This dry land taro root typically has a dark purple skin and white roots. Additionally, it contains a moist flesh inside. Although taro roots are grown year round, they are typically harvested in the fall. This is because they reach their peak in maturity then.



Taro roots can be used as an alternative to potatoes. They do, however, have somewhat of a nut-like flavor when cooked. Common uses for taro roots include frying, baking, roasting, boiling, or steaming them as an accompaniment to meat dishes. They are also often used in soups or stews. Additionally, vegetarians have found the cooked taro root to be a delicious addition to meals such as antipasto salads that include endives, peppers, tomatoes, chicory, and fresh herbs. Another reason that the taro root has gained in popularity for cooking purposes is because its starch is easily digestible. Additionally, taro roots are extremely nutritious as they provide a good source of fiber, contain a high amount of protein, calcium, and phosphorus, and supply approximately 95 calories per adult serving.

To determine whether a taro root is suitable for use, make sure that the root is firm to the touch, and has hairy roots. Once you have selected your roots, you can store them in your home for up to one week provided that the roots are stored in a cool and dry location, preferably at approximately 50ºF. Additionally, when storing taro roots, make sure that the roots do not dry out.

Besides purchasing taro root in its natural state to use for cooking purposes, many manufacturers have developed food products that incorporate the use of taro root as an ingredient. These include the following: taro chips, which are similar to potato chips, cookies, and vegetarian taro burgers. All these items are available for immediate consumption.

Because of its diversity, the taro root vegetable can easily be used as a healthy alternative to potatoes and other tubers.

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