Have you ever walked past a tuberous root with waxy, hairy looking brown skin during your weekly shopping trip? I’ll admit that it’s something I’ve done because not only was I not sure what it was, I had no idea how to use it. In my grocery store, it was labeled “dasheen” and “eddoe” and it wasn’t until later that I learned that those were both different names for taro, an ingredient that we know best for adding flavor to bubble tea and purple ice cream. Sometimes, you’ll find it in a bag of root veggie chips. But there’s so much more to this vegetable than just chips and bubble tea. Here’s why you should try cooking with taro.
What is Taro Root?
Taro root is a perennial tropical root native to Southeast Asia and India. It’s popular in cuisines there as well as Hawaii, Africa, and the Caribbean. It is made up of three parts: the corm, or the bulbous portion of the plant, the petiole or the stem that the leaves are attached to, and the leaves. Only the leaves and the corm are eaten. Although “taro root” is the colloquial name, you might find this hairy root under a different title, depending on where you live. In grocery stores in my neighborhood, for example, it is called dasheen or eddoe. Click here to learn about the different names taro goes by.
There are several varieties of taro; the corm may be small and round, shaped like a potato, or it may be elongated. The corm of the taro plant may be white or creamy in color or speckled with purple. All taro roots have a brown, hairy skin, which can irritate the skin. Because of that, it is is always a best practice to wear gloves or use a clean kitchen towel when handling taro. Peel the skin with a sharp knife before cubing the root itself. Please also note that raw taro root is toxic, so taro root should never be eaten raw. When cooked, taro has a flaky texture, similar to Japanese sweet potatoes, and a rich, nutty flavor. The corm is very versatile and can be used in savory dishes like curries and stews or to make purple-colored sweets, like Thai ice cream, bubble tea, and daifuku.
In terms of nutrition, taro is a good source of vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and dietary fiber.
How to Cook With Taro
Remember: always be sure to handle taro with gloves until you peel the skin and never eat the corm raw — it’s toxic!
Taro can be used the same way that you would use potatoes. You can steam it, boil it, mash it, or fry it. You can also make chips and fries. Try using taro to make these Roasted Root Fries or make these Baked Cassava Chips with taro instead — their texture is so similar that it’s sometimes used to make fufu, a West African food made by combining pounded cassava with green plantain flour. For tips on how to make the perfect fries without oil, read How to Make Perfectly Crispy French Fries. Although this applies to potatoes, taro is starchy, so the tips and tricks are relevant.
Like okra, taro can be slimy when cooked. To reduce sliminess, parboil the cubes, then rinse before using them. Then, they’re perfect for replacing potatoes in curries like this Super Simple Potato Curry, this Cauliflower and Potato Curry, and this South African Curry. You could also add cooked, cubed taro root to this West African-inspired Plantain Dumpling Soup.
Try replacing cassava, also known as yuca, with taro root. Both are popular ingredients in Caribbean and West African cuisine. You can try it out in this Caribbean Paella, this Cuban Yuca in Garlic Sauce, this egg-free Nigerian Yam and Egg, and these Yuca and Black Bean Chili Plantain Cups.
Serve your dinner with a side of roast taro root. Learn how to make these Perfectly Roasted Potatoes Without Oil and then apply the technique of using a mixture of tahini and non-dairy milk to make perfectly roasted taro root. For more ideas on flavors, check out these Coconut and Turmeric Roast Potatoes and these Sage and Almond Pesto Roasted Potatoes.
Like potatoes, taro root can be mashed. Use it instead of potatoes in this Potato and Celery Root Mash or make 100 percent mashed taro root and use it in fun, creative recipes like these Indian Mashed Potatoes, these Simple Mashed Potato Waffles and these Baked Mashed Potato Fries.
Or, use mashed taro root to make fritters, like these Potato Fritter Sliders, these Crispy Spinach and Potato Fritters, or these Potato and Spinach Cheddar Fritters.
As far as taro leaves go, they are a key component in Callaloo, a Caribbean dish of stewed taro leaves. It is also used to make these Filipino Taro Leaves in Aromatic Coconut Milk.
Where to Buy
You most likely won’t find taro root at everyday grocery stores apart from those that carry a lot of specialty produce, like Whole Foods. For fresh taro, check your local Asian or Indian grocery stores or shops that carry a lot of Caribbean specialty produce. If you can’t find taro in any shops near you, you can opt for this Fresh Taro from Cado’s Kitchen. Ten pounds of fresh taro costs about $30.
If you want to try something new and interesting, try this Hawaiian Poi Powder, made from ground taro root. It’s used to make instant poi, a pale purple, pudding-like dish that is traditionally made from pounded taro. One 3-ounce jar costs about $13.
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