Taro Root or Dasheen: Its Nutrition and Gastronomical Uses
This tuber which is native to Southeast Asia is a staple food across the pacific, the West Indies and Africa. Its botanical family, known as Colocasia, includes over 100 varieties of taro root which vary greatly in size and shape. As you can imagine this has sometimes caused confusion when identifying the particular variety. The smallest variety, known as baby taro (Colocasia antiquorum) is also known as eddoe. It is considered tastier than its larger cousin, the large taro (Colocasia esculenta). Both tubers are also called dasheen and sometimes they are confused with the malanga. The malanga looks very similar to the taro and although it is related, the malanga belongs to the Xanthosoma botanical family. The difference between the two only becomes apparent by their taste, after cooking, and by the shape of the plants leaves.
The cultivation of taro root in the West Indies came about because, like breadfruit, the carbohydrate dense food was exported from the orient to the islands, where it provided cheap food for slaves. Today, taro is known as an ingredient in the classic West Indian dish pepperpot stew. West Indians discovered they could blanch the plants leaves, to provide a leafy green, like spinach. Taro leaves became known as callaloo. Callaloo soup is especially popular in Trinidad & Tobago.
Taro is also a staple of Polynesian cuisine. Moreover, it is considered somewhat sacred because it was one of the first foods used to sustain early settlers on their migratory journey from Indo-Malaysia to Hawaii. As such taro is often included in many religious ceremonies. Taro is probably best known for the gooey paste, enjoyed throughout Polynesia called poi.
Preparing: Like all other tubers taro cannot be appreciated raw, furthermore its flesh contains calcium oxalate, a foul tasting substance that is destroyed during cooking. Taro root should also be peeled under running water, and it might be necessary to wear gloves, as calcium oxalate can irritate the skin. Taro can be cooked in much the same way as potatoes or cassava, however taro has a nutty sweet flavor. Baby taro or eddoe can be cooked with their skins in tact then easily peeled after cooking; they are softer and more creamy than the large variety and therefore cook more quickly. Taro can be baked in the oven but it tends to become dry. To overcome this problem add butter during cooking or serve with a sauce. Taro makes good mashed potatoes, especially when combined with other tubers such as sweet potato and yams. Whisk in some milk or cream to make them smooth. Use thinly sliced taro to thicken soup, add towards the end of cooking.
Storing: Taro is more perishable than other tuber vegetables and may become soft and moldy in a few days. Taro root and its leaves can be stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and should keep for up to one week. Use perforated bags for ventilation and wrap with paper towel to remove moisture.
Nutrition: Taro has a higher starch content than other tubers, about 70%, and therefore has more calories. One hundred grams of taro has 142 calories as compared with white potatoes at 79 calories per 100 grams. Taro is rich in vitamins, C, B and A. It also contains calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.