Early explorer William Colenso named 10 varieties from Northland, some of which were only eaten on particular occasions. Taro is a starchy root crop with edible leaves and has provided good nutrition to Pacific Islanders for hundreds of years. It’s known by several names; taro, talo, dalo.
Taro leaves are commonly known as elephant’s ear. Varieties of taro vary in colour and size. Taro is high in carbohydrate, greater than potato, and consequently one of the highest vegetable sources of energy. It a good source of dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, and zinc; a source of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and manganese; and it contains a dietary significant amount of potassium.
Always choose healthy, well-grown taro plants.
Like most root crops, taro can do well in deep, moist, or swampy soils. It’s best to plant in very wet areas of the maara, which is fertile, moist soil in partial shade or filtered sun. Planting success is often improved on clay soils by adding extra topsoil and forming raised beds. Incorporate coarse sand, bark, compost, or other organic material to improve soil structure. Dig a hole in the ground twice the size of the root ball. Plant in locations protected from strong winds.
Taro is best planted only at certain phases of the moon. The Rakaunui, Rakau-matohi and Orongonui (17th, 18th, and 28th nights of the moon) are favourable planting days. If planted at the wrong time, a fine growth ensues but a very poor crop.
Before planting, ensure that the root ball is saturated and remove the planter pot with minimal root disturbance. As soil is placed in the prepared hole, tread firmly to bring soil in close contact with the root ball. Water thoroughly, making sure that moisture penetrates to the depth of the root ball. It’s the root of the taro plant that grows in tropical and semitropical climates all over the world.
Taro is slightly sweet and nutty in flavor.
Taro can be boiled, steamed, or oven-baked, but it must be cooked thoroughly to prevent mouth and throat itching caused by a substance in raw taro called calcium oxalate. The leaves have the same itching effect if not cooked properly. Boil taro, drain, then reboil in fresh water or coconut cream (diluted with milk if wished).
The corms can be cooked like potatoes, boiled, roasted, fried or steam. The natural sugars give a sweet, nutty flavor. Young taro leaves and stems can be eaten after boiling twice to remove the acrid flavor. The leaves are a good source of Vitamin A and C and contain more protein than the corms.