Taro, Colocasia esculenta - one of the staple foods of the Pacific

Today we explore one of the most important South Pacific crops - TARO.


Taro, Colocasia esculenta

Other names:

Fiji - dalo
Hawaii – kalo
Papua New Guinea – taro tru
Tonga – talo Tonga

Malaysia - keladi

Leaves: rourou or Hawaiian – lu’au

Relative plants:
Cocoyam – is a common name for taro and its relative tannia Xanhosoma.
Giant Swamp taro – Cyrtosperma chamissonis, popular in Tuvalu

Taro is one of the staple foods for the Pacific islands supplying their population with vitamins, minerals and carbohydrate energy. Its origins come probably from Southern or South-East Asia (India or Malay Peninsula). There are archeological evidences of taro cultivation in Papua New Guinea as far as 9000 years ago. PNG has also the world’s largest genetic diversity of taro. There are many varieties of taro ranging in colour from white, through pink to grey and purple. Some have dry flesh and others may have moist flesh. Taro has a significant cultural meaning. There is no feasting without taro, it is a precious gift and a prestige crop. In the ancient Hawaii it was believed that taro was the older brother of the first man and both were children of the god Wakea and the goddess Ho’ohuku-ka-lani. There was a tapu that in the Hawai’i only men could cultivate and prepare food from taro. Taro is used in traditional medicine and is featured on some South Pacific coins.  


Fresh roots will keep for several days. You can also seal them in plastic bag and keep for few months. Raw peeled taro may be frozen. Poe (cooked, pounded taro) and cooked dried taro are very lasting products. The latter was taken on sea voyages.


Taro can be baked, steamed or boiled. Cooked or raw taro makes yummy chips. Cubes of cooked taro can accompany fish and coconut dishes. Cooked taro can be pounded  and worked until a smooth dough forms. This is actually called poe. Poe is a very lasting product. It may get fermented (in which form it is still appreciated) but it won’t spoil. Taro leaves are called rourou. Young leaves with green stems are used as a vegetable. They can be blanched and cooked in coconut cream and added to other foods. Taro flour can be obtained by slicing, drying and milling the corm. Peels and wastes are fed to domestic livestock.


Taro contain irritating substance – oxalic acid. It is good to oil hands before working with taro. Otherwise use gloves. Neither corm nor leaves cannot be eaten raw. The level of acridity can vary considerably between different taro cultivars.


Fresh taro corm consists in two-thirds of water and up to 29% carbohydrate. The predominant carbohydrate is starch. The starch grains are small and easily digestible, good for allergic infants and those suffering with alimentary disorders. 7 % of dry weight is protein for the corm and 23 % for the leaves. Calories intake is about 107 calories for 100 g of taro. One cup of poi has 160 calories. 

Taro consists mainly of starch and less fat and proteins:

Carbohydrate: 13-29 % (of which 80 % is starch)
Protein: 1,4-3 %
Fat 0,16-0,36 %

Leaves have vitamins C, A, B2, calcium, phosporus and iron.
Stems contain vitamins C, B1, B3, B2, calcium, phosphorus and iron. 

Poe recipe:

Peel taro, wash and cut in medium cubes. Cover with cold water and boil until cooked. Remove water. Mash cooked taro until very smooth and elastic dough forms. You can add a little liquid (water, coconut milk) while working with taro. Eat ready poe or use for other recipes. 


Possible usage of poe:

*dilute with coconut milk to a desired consistency and eat like a porridge
*add more milk and coconut sugar for a nutricious drink
*bake bread with poe
*add an egg, onion, season and fry taro cakes

I love it!


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