Taro / Colocasia Corms
[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); Colocasia esculenta]
Probably native to the wetlands of Malaysia, taro was carried throughout the Pacific 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 regions, including Africa and Central America. Cold tolerant varieties are grown in China, Korea 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.
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 up to about 5 inches inch long, 2-1/2 inches diameter and about 5 ounces, while the giant in the photo is 9 inches long, 5 inches in diameter and weighed 4 pounds 2-1/4 ounces, but they get quite a bit larger.
More on Arums.
See also Taro Leaves & Stems
The best known use of taro in the U.S. is for making the Hawaiian staple "poi". Taro corms are peeled, boiled, then mashed and adjusted with water to make the desired thickness, "one finger", "two finger" and "three finger" (the thinnest). It may be eaten fresh or fermented for a few days.
In India, recipes call for taro corms as "colocasia root". They are used in some curries. Colocasia stems are also used, and in some areas the leaves also, but rarely the flowers. We cover leaves and stems on a separate Taro Leaves & Stems page.
In ancient Rome, colocasia root was boiled and served with sauces or boiled along with meats, much as potatoes are today. Because it was imported from Egypt, colocasia disappeared from Europe upon the fall of the Roman Empire, except for Cyprus where it is still grown and cooked as kolokassi.
Buying: Taro corms are widely available in North America, due to their common use by Hispanic, Southeast Asian, Caribbean, Hawaiian, African and other communities of tropical and subtropical origin. They should be firm and unwrinkled, with no soft spots or mold.
Storing: Store like potatoes, in a cool dry place with no direct sunlight. They will keep for a week or two.
Cooking: Taro corms must be peeled to remove toxic Oxalic Acid and Oxalates in the skins (see Health & Nutrition). Cooking time is short, 10 to 15 minutes for 3/4 inch cubes, but it will hold its shape well if cooked a bit longer.
Subst: boiling potatoes make an acceptable substitute
in some recipes, but they will have a less silky texture, be less sweet,
and take longer to cook. They cannot be used for things like poi.
Taro leaves, stems and corm skins all contain both soluble oxalic acid and non-soluble oxalates, both types being serious health problems if not used discretion.
Peeling and cooking the Taro corms removes the Oxalic Acid and Calcium Oxalate. This makes the corms harmless in even large quantities, demonstrated by the prevalence of Taro in the cuisines of Southeast Asia, and in particular the Pacific Island regions, including Hawaii.
Taro Leaves are another matter entirely, but on this site they are covered on our Taro Leaves & Stems page.