Taro ponds beside the Hanalei River on the island of Kaua'i.
Most people think that taro grows only in Hawai‘i or the South Pacific. Did you know that taro grows in at least 65 countries around the world? Islands of the Caribbean, Hawai‘i, Africa, and the United States, are just some of the places taro is grown. Did you know that Homestead, Florida grows more taro than Hawai‘i?
What is taro?
Taro is a starchy plant, or carbohydrate, that gives us energy, like potatoes or rice. There are two basic kinds: wetland and dry land taro. Wetland taro grows in shallow ponds, or flooded terraces, called lo‘i (lo-ee) in Hawai'i. Dry land taro grows in soil but still needs lots of water. Both kinds prefer warm climates. Taro is usually grown by small businesses and families. Children often help with planting the huli, or plant cuttings, and with weeding.
What does taro look like?
Most taro plants stand about waist-high to a second-grader. The leaves look like small green elephant ears. When the soft trade winds blow, the leaves wiggle like a thousand little elephants shaking their heads. The root, or corm, of the plant is about the size of a grapefruit and is very nutritious. That means it’s good for you and has lots of vitamins to keep you healthy.
What does it taste like?
All parts of the taro plant can be eaten, including the leaves. They taste a lot like spinach. Do you like spinach? The purple corm has to be cooked until it is soft. The cooking water has to be changed several times; otherwise, your throat will get itchy. When peeled and sliced, it tastes like a mild sweet potato. In Hawai‘i, it is often mashed into a purple paste called poi. Have you tasted poi? You could if you went to a Hawaiian feast, called a luau. Poi goes nicely with fish, pork, and vegetable dishes. Some people love poi and others think it tastes like paste. Kids sometimes mix sugar in their poi. Does that sound good? Babies and older folks eat poi because it is easy to digest.
Why not look for taro in a specialty grocery store near you and try it? Then you will be like kids in other lands who love their favorite starch—taro.
Taro fun quiz
Do you remember?
1) Where is taro found?
a) Everywhere b) in many countries c) at the 7-11
2) What is a corm?
a) A new name for corn b) the root of the taro plant c) something that grows on your toes
3) What do the leaves of the taro plant look like?
a) Diamonds b) footballs c) elephant ears
4) What is another name for a starch?
a) Chocolate b)carbohydrate c) jelly
5)What are the two basic kinds of taro?
a) Sugary and sweet b) skinny and tall c) wetland and dry land
6) How big is a taro corm?
a) As big as a basketball b) a peanut c) a grapefruit
7) What does cooked taro taste like?
a) Potato chips b) ice cream c) sweet potato
8) Why is poi good for babies?
a) They think it is milk b) it’s purple c) it’s easy to digest