Taro is considered to be one of the oldest vegetables in the world. The purple-hued root belongs to the Araceae family and can be likened to purple yam (ube) or sweet potato.
The name taro was taken from the Maori language when Captain Cook observed its growth in New Zealand in 1769.
Taro’s scientific name is Colocasia esculenta, but it is also referred to as dasheen, eddoe and kalo. It is found in many countries across the globe, but is first thought to have been grown in Malaysia and India as far back as 5000BC.
Cultivation spread west to Egypt, Greece and Rome and then east towards China. It is estimated to have been produced in Japan for around 2,500 years.
Early Polynesian sailors brought taro with them on their travels, which led to its introduction to the Oceania region and becoming a staple food. Today, it is prevalent in some parts of the Caribbean, Western and Northern Africa, South-East Asia, South America and Japan.
In Australia, taro is farmed in the wet tropical regions of North and Central Queensland, the Northern Territory and Northern New South Wales. The average production rate across the country is 1,000 to 1,500 tonnes a year.
Growth and harvest
Taro can adapt to a range of climates, but thrives best in warm, humid weather. Cooler temperatures and overcast weather can delay the growth needed for a mature crop.
The ideal environment for cultivation is one that maintains an average temperature of 20 degrees Celsius and has evenly distributed rainfall and moisture. Provided there is no frost, taro can grow any time of the year.
The taro plant can grow 1 to 2 metres tall and has large light-green heart-shaped leaves, similar to an elephant’s ear. At the base of the plant, the roots or corms have
rough, brown almost scaly skin with a starchy potato-like texture on the inside.
Harvest occurs between nine and 12 months when the leaves begin to turn slightly yellow and the tubers lift up. Similar to any root vegetable, taro can be removed from the ground by lifting the tubers.
Flavour profile and culinary applications
Taro must be cooked as it can be toxic when eaten fresh. It turns purple when boiled and can also be fried and mashed. In Hawaii, it is commonly thinly sliced and turned into chips.
Although the root is the most desired part of the plant, the leaves can also be cooked and eaten. Taro is a versatile ingredient and is used across sweet and savoury dishes. It is rich, creamy and nutty in flavour, making it the perfect addition to desserts such as puddings and cakes.
In Asia, taro is often paired with tapioca and is used in milky, sweet drinks. Like
potatoes, taro can also be added to stews, stir fries, tray bakes and dumplings.