|Colocasia – esculenta Elephant Ear Available Now ! 3/$15|
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|Pronounciation: kol-oh-KAY-shah ess-kew-LEN-tah
Nicknames: Taro or Elephant Ear
Native: Polynesia and Southeast Asia
Color: Large Green Leaves, no flowers
Taro (Colocasia esculenta ), a member of the Araceae family, is an ancient crop grown throughout the humid tropics for its edible corms and leaves, as well as for its traditional uses. It is a wonderful garden plant growing in nearly any condition and it is amazingly hardy surviving Northwest winters. The foliage dies back after the first hard frost but come back early summer.
Today taro is widely used throughout the world, in Africa, Asia, the West Indies, and South America. Taro is of great importance in many places such as the Caribbean, Hawaii, the Solomons, American Samoa, West Samoa, the Philippines, Fiji, Sri Lanka, India, Nigeria, Indonesia, New Hebrides, Tonga, Niue, Papua, New Guinea, Egypt, and others. In these areas many people depend heavily upon taro as a staple food. More recently, taro was introduced by the U. S. Department of Agriculture to the southern United States as a supplement to potatoes.
Taro constituted the staff of life for the Hawaiians when Captain Cook arrived in the islands in 1778. At that time an estimated three hundred thousand people in the islands lived chiefly on poi (a fermented or unfermented taro paste), sweet potato, fish, seaweed, and a few green vegetables and fruits. They used no grain or animal milk in their diet, and animal proteins were a rarity. Yet the good physique and excellent teeth of the Polynesian people testified to an adequate diet. Taro has played a similar role in the diet of the Melanesians and Micronesians, who ate boiled or baked corms and the leaves of taro. Young taro leaves are used as a main vegetable throughout Melanesia and Polynesia. They are boiled or covered with coconut cream, wrapped in banana or breadfruit leaves and cooked on hot stone. Thus, taro is one of the few major staple foods where both the leaf and the underground parts are equally important in the human diet.
Within the last sixty years, investigators have confirmed the superiority of taro over other starchy staples. The digestibility of taro starch has been estimated to be 98.8 percent. The size of the taro starch grain is one-tenth that of potato. Because of its ease of assimilation, taro can be used by person with digestive problems. Taro flour and other products have been used extensively for infant formulae in the United States and have formed an important constituent of proprietary canned baby foods. Taro is especially useful to persons allergic to cereals and can be consumed by children who are sensitive to milk. Poi can be used as a carbohydrate base to formulate milk substitutes. Sensitivity to taro occurs far less frequently than it does to other starches.
Colocasia are the most important of the edible genera. Colocasia is thought-to have originated in the Indo-Malayan region, perhaps in eastern India and Bangladesh, and spread eastward into Southeast Asia, eastern Asia, and the Pacific islands; westward to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean; and then southward and westward from there into East Africa and West Africa, from whence it spread to the Caribbean and America.
When a crop is being considered for food, nutritional value and consumer acceptance must be taken into consideration. The nutritional value of a food depends upon its nutritional contents and their digestibility and the presence or absence of antinutrients and toxic factors. As far as consumer acceptance is concerned, Colocasia esculenta, commonly known as taro or cocoyam, is an important food staple of developing countries in Africa, the West Indies, the Pacific region and Asia. The corms are generally used as the main starch in meals, however, snacks are prepared from taro in numerous countries and are either sweet or salty, moist or crisp. Hawaiians traditionally used taro to make poi. Human digestibility of the raw taro starch is the same as raw potato starch. For supplying nutrients, the corms may be considered as a good source of carbohydrates and potassium. Large servings of taro corms become a significant source of dietary protein, especially if taken more than once a day. Although taro corms are a relatively poor source of ascorbic acid and carotene, the carotene content is equivalent to that of cabbage and twice that of potato. Taro also contains greater amounts of vitamin B-complex than whole milk. The cooked leaves has the same nutritional value of spinach.
Growth is best at temperatures between 20 °C to 30 °C. The plants can be damaged if temperatures fall below 10 °C for more than a few days. When cultivated in climates with colder winters, the tuber must be dug up and stored during the colder, winter months in a cool, dry, place protected from frost and with good ventilation to reduce the risk of fungal diseases. Replanting in spring is done when the chance of frost has passed.