Sunday, November 10, 2013

Taro (dasheen) Root

Scientific name: Colocasia esculenta


Taro is a root crop cultivated in tropical and semi-tropical regions, in wetlands like paddy fields or in dry land that has a steady source of water. It has a mild sweetish nutty flavor. Some varieties are white while others have a light purple color.  It is eaten in many places around the world particularly Africa, Southeast Asia, northeastern countries like China, India, Japan and South Korea and even the Himalayas such as Nepal. Spanish and Portuguese colonizers introduced Taro in South America.  In the Caribbean, it is often substituted for plantain. It is also used in the cuisines of Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey.  It was popular among early Romans up to the fall of the Roman Empire when trade with Egypt stopped. It‘s also sold in Asian stores in the US.

In some parts of the world, Taro is the main starch of a meal as in Africa and Polynesia. It was in Japan, too, until it was eased out by the preferred rice.  It is served on tables around the globe for breakfast—boiled plain, fried, roasted--as a snack-- sliced in chips and fried or sprinkled with sugar.  Taro root is also cooked in a variety of savory dishes such as curries, combined with lentils or cooked along with the stems and leaves in vegetable stews and soups. When sweetened and mixed with other ingredients, it is considered a delectable dessert in China such as cakes and ice cream.   A favorite dessert cum filling snack in the Philippines is a mixture of taro and other tubers cooked with rich coconut milk, sugar and flavored with ripe jackfruit strips. When dried and milled into flour, taro makes tasty pancakes.

Taro cannot be eaten raw so has to be cooked thoroughly to leach out harmful calcium oxalates.  Toxic and highly insoluble, calcium oxalates can cause gout and kidney stones. Why then do people still eat taro? The secret is soaking it in water overnight to lessen the oxalate crystals.  If you’re in a hurry, just add a pinch of baking soda and it will do the trick.

Health Benefits:

Taro is a staple food in many cultures due to its high caloric content—142 calories/100 gram. Compared to potatoes at 93/100 grams, it’s a higher source of energy.  Moreover, it has 3 times more dietary fiber that is essential for good digestion and regular BMs.   Good news to diabetics and dieters! Taro has a low glycemic index, meaning once it’s digested, the level of glucose in the blood rises gradually not abruptly. In short, the supply of energy is steady, no peaks and crashes that cause hunger, no sugar rush at all.  Not only is it a good source of energy-giving carbohydrates, it also contains plenty of vitamins and minerals. The root is easy to digest while the leaves contain lots of vitamins A, C and some protein.  When displayed as an ornamental indoor plant, it is known as “elephant’s ears” due to its broad leaves.