Where: A staple of the Hawaiian islands
History: Myths of life regeneration
Tastes: Nutty, starchy taste a little like sweet potato
Serving Suggestion: Boiled and pumped into a paste or enjoyed in soups
Taro is a vegetable which is close to the heart of the Hawaiian people. For centuries it was the main staple of their diet, and was an important source of carbohydrate and nutrients. Even today, it is enjoyed as a traditional dish at luaus and other celebrations throughout Hawaii.
Origins and history
Taro originated in Polynesia, and was one of the plants brought by settlers to Hawaii about 1500 years ago. It was adopted as a staple of the Hawaiian diet and approximately 700 different varieties were cultivated on the islands until the late 18th century. These days there’s only about a dozen different kinds that are regularly grown and consumed and with the exception of a handful of commercial ventures, most taro farmers now cultivate the crop part time.
Taro is always served at luaus and important ceremonial occasions. The vegetable was an integral part of everyday life for centuries, and is deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of the Hawaiian people. According to a popular legend, the Hawaiian gods Wakea and Ho’ohoku-ka-lani had a child. The infant was sickly and deformed, and died after a few days. From the child’s grave a strange plant grew, which the gods harvested and ate. Their next born son was healthy, and they named him Holoa. Holoa became the ancestor of the Hawaiian people.
Taro is a brown-skinned root vegetable which resembles a potato in some respects. The grey flesh sometimes has a purple tinge and when cooked has a distinct nutty flavour. Traditionally the boiled taro was pounded into a paste called poi, but it can also be added as an ingredient of substantial soups and stews.
Taro leaves are also edible and are prepared in the same way as turnip greens or other leaf vegetables.
The Taro Page
Site dedicated to Taro: it’s history, mythology, and a great collection of recipes.
Main image courtesy of: (c)Tomo.Yun (www.yunphoto.net/en/)
By Jess Halliday