Taro is one of the world’s most ancient crops and is part of the Araceae family. Known by the scientific name Colocasia esculenta, taro is a root vegetable that has edible corms, leaves, and stems.
The vegetable is prolific across multiple countries, and is an essential foodstuff in Africa, Southeast Asia, Southern India, East Asia, and the Oceanic region where it is native in many areas. The word taro is said to derive from the Maori language, with the vegetable referred to as ube in Tagalog, and ede in Igbo.
In Australia, the C. esculenta var. aquatilis species is native to the Kimberley region, while the common variety is an invasive weed in Western Australia, the Northern Territory, Queensland, and New South Wales.
Growth and harvest
A perennial tropical plant, taro can be grown in paddy fields that receive or have access to considerable amounts of cool water or rainfall. It can be grown under flooded conditions, but stagnant or warm water can result in rot. The growth process is also longer compared to dry-land cultivation.
Taro prefers deep, moist, swamp-like soil conditions in areas with heavy rainfall. The plant takes around six to 12 months to mature when farmed on dry land compared to 12 to 15 months in a wetland environment. Taro is typically harvested by hand using tools that loosen the soil around the plant before the tuber is pulled out.
Appearance and flavour profile
Taro plants grow up to 1.5m in height and have large light-green leaves that are heart-shaped. The corms are spherical in shape and are comparable to a tennis ball in size. The tubers are brown in colour and are covered in stringy fibres, but the interior flesh is white or beige with pink-purple flecks.
The root vegetable has a mild, nutty flavour with an element of sweetness. Taro is comparable to sweet potato but is slightly starchier and tends to take on the flavours of the other ingredients it’s prepared with.
There are many ways to prepare taro including roasting, steaming, and boiling. In the Cook Islands, the leaves are cooked with coconut milk, onion, and proteins. Samoan cuisine sees corms baked with whole pigs in an umu – earth oven – and it is also a popular ingredient in Asian desserts such as mochi and a taro puree in China and as a base to make milk tea.