Taro in Hawaii
Many people in Polynesian and Southeast Asian countries enjoy growing and eating taro. This plant is deeply embedded in Hawaiian culture. And it plays an integral role in traditional Hawaiian cuisine. Hawaiian taro, or kalo, comes from the plant family of araceae. It has a rich nutty flavor and is a vegetable root of a light purple hue. In ancient Hawaii, taro was eaten not only as a nutritional side, but also taken for its healing and medicinal properties. However, due to its high content of calcium oxalate (said to cause kidney stones), taro can only be eaten well cooked. Cooked taro is a good source of potassium and contains vitamin C, E, the B vitamins, copper and magnesium.
What’s in Taro and How to Grow It
The green taro leaves are rich with vitamins A and C and a fair amount of protein. In Hawaii, taro leaves are often used for wrapping laulaus. This is a dish of steamed pork or chicken with salted butterfish (black cod) or pork fat added for flavor. One makes laulau by first wrapping it in taro leaves and then again in ti leaves.
Taro roots require substantial amounts of water in order to grow. As such, the tropical climate of the Hawaiian Islands is ideal for the cultivation of this root. The leafy plant flourishes in a wet environment, whether through frequent rain or in flooded fields. Taro can be grown in two ways, in a dry patch or in an irrigated patch. The irrigated fields or lo’i are constantly submersed in several inches of water. This provides the plants with maximal hydration during their growth. The Hanalei Valley on Kauai is a good example of this. This valley has some of the most expansive taro patches in Hawaii.
In Hawaii, wetland taro is used to make poi, which is the most popular form of eating taro. Poi is an ancient Hawaiian dish made from the paste of baked or steamed taro that has been fermented. You always find this dish at traditional luaus or Hawaiian food restaurants. Dry land taro is used to make taro chips or for use in Chinese dishes.
Hawaiian Taro History
According to history, the significance of Hawaiian taro is far more than just a delicious Polynesian staple. As legend goes, taro played a significant role in Hawaii’s creation story. Originally the father heaven, or sky, had a stillborn child with mother earth. When they buried the child, a taro plant grew in its place. The second son of the earth and sky became the father of all Hawaiians and was taught to revere the taro plant as one would an older brother. This love of taro was then passed down to all Hawaiian descendants and is still a respected tradition.
According to the Hawaii custom, just as one would not argue or fight in front of their elders, fighting or arguing is interdicted when a bowl of poi is open. Historically, because of the important role taro played in Hawaiian cuisine, only men were allowed to prepare a dish containing taro.
Eating Hawaiian Taro
Taro can even be eaten right after being cooked, which has a taste somewhat similar to a sweet potato. It can even be prepared as bread, not dissimilar from “potato” bread one might see for sale in grocery stores. Also, it has also been prepared as a veggie-burger option.
But this Hawaii-grown root is also used in other unexpected areas. It is not often that a vegetable or root is the chosen flavor for trendy desserts. But frozen yogurt stores often feature sweet taro as a frozen yogurt flavor. Taro powder is also sold as an ingredient to add a hint of sweetness teas and smoothies. This vegetable’s savor proves to be a favorite as a crunchy day-time snack, a staple at a luau, a delicious addition to tea or a refreshing dessert. It is clear to see why the Hawaiians love taro –there are so many ways to enjoy it.