While the Titan Arum isn't much eaten, corms (swollen underground stems)
of some far less spectacular arums are important in the diet of many tropical
Titan Arum image U.S. Government - public domain.
General & History
The Arums are a large enough family and common as ornamentals, but only a few members are significant as food. Taro has been spread by Polynesian settlers throughout the Pacific Islands and as far as Hawaii. It has long been an important food for these peoples because it is one of the few starchy vegetables that thrive in a hot and very wet environment.
Caution: Arums foliage and some roots typically contain large amounts of sharp pointed Calcium Oxalate crystals that cause severe irritation and swelling of the mouth and throat which can be fatal through strangulation. Should you manage to swallow them, they break down into Calcium and corrosive Oxalic Acid in the digestive tract causing severe gastric distress. It is important that all Arums be properly prepared and cooked before ingestion.Varieties
Elephant Foot Yam - [Suran (India),
Native to Southeast Asia, this arum produces another warm, super-stinky flower
pretending to be a rotting dead animal. Mercifully the flower is much smaller
than that of the Titan Arum. The corms of this plant, which look remarkably
like old anti-tank mines, are cooked and eaten in Southeast Asia and in India
where efforts are being made to develop it into a major crop. Despite the
name, it is not a yam. As canned "Suran" it is sometimes seen in Indian
markets in North America.
Photo: copyright holder uncontactable.
Konjac - [Devil's Tongue,
Native to tropical and subtropical East and Southeast Asia, this corm is
made into flour and then into an almost clear white jelly flecked with tiny
dark specks. It is often given a darker color by addition of Hijiki
seaweed. This jelly is quite common in Korean and Japanese markets here in
North America, both as thick noodles and in blocks of firm jelly. It is
also sold in the form of sweet jelly snacks, and the flour is used by
vegans as a substitute for gelatin. The jelly has almost no calories but
is high in dietary fiber so has featured in some diet products. The corms
can grow to about 10 inches diameter.
Photo © i0082.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit - [Indian turnip,
Rhizomes of this common wetland plant found in the northeast U.S.
were eaten by Native Americans in times past but it is no longer a
significant food plant.
Photo © i0084.
Malanga - [Yautia (Puerto Rico),
Malanga (Cuba), Mangarito (Brazil), New Cocoyam (Africa), Tannia / Tannier (Caribbean), Macabo,
Taioba (Brazil, leaves only),
'Ape (Polynesia), Xanthosoma saggitifolium (malanga blanca) ,
X. atrovirens (malanga amarilla), X. violaceum (malanga lila),
X. maffaffa (mangarito)]
Native to northern South America, this arum is now also grown all through the Caribbean region and Central America, and is particularly popular in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The plant is also now grown in West Africa as an alternative to yams and taro (cocoyam) and in Hawaii as 'ape (say "Ah-pay").
The corm is
somewhat mucilaginous and cooks to a smoother texture than potato, with
chunks holding their shape well. The longer of the photo specimens, obtained
from a market serving a mixed Russian / Mexican community, was 8-1/2 inches
long, 2-5/8 inches in diameter at the thickest part, and weighed 14 ounces.
Skunk Cabbage - [Symplocarpus
Rhizomes of this common wetlands plant, found in North America from southern
Canada to Georgia, were eaten by Native Americans in
times past but it is no longer a significant food plant here. It
inhabits damp stream beds and gets its name from the skunk-like
odor the leaves exude when damaged. This plant was very common in the back
woods of New Jersey where I lived for a while as a child.
Photo © i0083.
Sweet Flag - [Acorus americanus,
Acorus calamus (Eurasian species)]
Geneticists now consider Sweet Flag separate from the Arums but a precursor of the Arums. Order Acorus includes nothing else edible, so I'm listing it here without apology. Fossils have been found from the Eocene, about 50 million years ago.
The grass-like leaves of this bog plant are common in the northeast U.S. and Asia. The rhizomes (underground stems) were eaten by Native Americans in times past but it is no longer a significant food plant. European settlers planted the Eurasian species, although the American species (identical to a Siberian species) was already common in North America.
Sweet Flag was long used as a food flavoring and in perfumes, but the FDA
banned all varieties from food when one variety in India was found to
contain a carcinogen, even though the varieties found here don't contain that
substance. In areas where Sweet Flag grows leaves are sometimes placed in
jars of sugar as a flavoring substitute for vanilla bean. Leaves are used for
their fragrance and to repel weevils from stored grains. The root is used
Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé, 1885, copyright expired.
Taro - [Taro (Polynesian);
Kalo (Hawaiian); Colocasia (Rome); Kolocasi (Cyprus); Ocumo, Cocoyam,
Madumbi, Nduma (Africa); Macabo (Cameroon); Khoai mo, khoai so (Vietnam);
Laing (Philippine); Dasheen, Eddoes (Caribbean); Malanga cabeza, Malanga
islena (Cuba); Arvi, Colocasia (India); Talas (S.E. Asia); Dalo (Fiji);
Cara (Brazil); Calaloo (Caribbean, leaves only); Yautia (Puerto Rico);
Probably native to the wetlands of Maylasia, taro was carried through the Pacific region as far as Hawaii by seagoing canoe, and by traders as far as ancient Egypt and Rome. In more modern times it has been carried to all tropical and near tropical areas including Africa and Central America. Cold tolerant varieties are grown in China and Japan.
Taro corms (called taro root) are short underground stems rich in starch. Unlike most starchy vegetables they are high in amylose, a starch soluble in hot water and contain 3% sugar which makes them somewhat sweet. Taro is indigestible raw and can cause severe gastrointestinal distress if not properly prepared and cooked.
In India taro corms and stems are called for in some curries as colocasia root and colocasia stems. In some areas young leaves are also cooked and rarely the flowers. In Hawaii corms are used to make poi.
The photo specimens include regular taro corms available everywhere and
a giant taro corm often available from markets serving a Southeast Asian
community. The regular run around 3-3/4 inch long, 2-1/4 inch diameter and
about 5 ounces. The giant in the photo is 8 inches long, 4 inches in
diameter and weighed a little over 2-1/2 pounds, but they get quite a bit
bigger. Details and