A sweet and starchy tuber considered a staple across several continents, taro root has a nutty sweetness to it that’s hard to describe but easy to pick out after you’ve tried it. Often prepared in similar ways to the potato, both savory and sweet recipes might call for this versatile root vegetable.
What Does It Taste Like?
Taro root has a sweet and nutty flavor that’s nothing like the potato’s savory, buttery earthiness. The flavor of taro shares more in common with the sweet potato, though you’d never mistake one for the other. Some people think taro tastes most similar to the parsnip, which also has a sweet nuttiness to it when cooked. Taro’s flavor is hard to pin down, but easy to recognize once you’ve tried it.
Where Does It Come From?
First cultivated in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, taro root spread across the continent and into places as far away as Hawaii and New Zealand. It grows best in tropical places because of its need for soil that’s high in nutrients. It also doesn’t do well in frost, so the warm and balmy tropics make the perfect environment for taro plants to grow.
Is Taro Root Like a Potato?
Taro root is similar to the potato in many ways, but there are also a few key differences. Like the potato, this root vegetable is considered a tuber, meaning it comes from a part of the plant that grows under the ground. Unlike the potato, the root of the taro plant isn’t the only part that’s widely eaten. Often, the leaves of the taro plant are prepared like spinach and used in savory recipes.
Like the potato, taro root is extremely versatile. Although they can be prepared in many of the same ways, another thing that separates the potato from taro root is the taste. While it’s similar to the potato in texture, taro is used just as often in sweet dishes as savory ones.
Is Eating Taro Root Good for You?
Taro became a staple crop across so many cultures because it provides tons of health benefits. Like many other tubers, including cassava root and potatoes, taro root makes a great source of potassium and fiber. In fact, if you want to know how much fiber taro root has, take the fiber content of an equal-sized potato and double it. Taro can also help to bring down swelling, improve blood flow, and fight off both heart disease and cancer.
Can You Eat It Raw?
Like its South American cousin cassava root, this tuber is actually toxic when eaten raw. It can lead to pain and swelling in the mouth, as well as irritation to your digestive system if it’s swallowed. Yikes! Luckily, it’s easy to flush the toxin out by cooking the root, or soaking it in cold water overnight. But before you do either, make sure to remove the course and hairy peel. Otherwise, the toxins are trapped in by the taro root’s thick skin.
Where to Buy Taro Root
Taro root is much harder to come by in the US than in places like India and New Zealand. Most international markets should stock taro root, and you can also find it at farmers’ markets across the country. Call to check in with your local international or Asian market, or a farm stand in your area. If that doesn’t work, you can always try the internet.
How to Store It
Unfortunately, taro doesn’t have the long shelf life of similar tubers like potatoes and cassava root. Keep this tuber in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight and eat it within a few days. Never wrap it or keep it in the fridge. If it starts to crack, develop soft spots or grow mold, then it has passed its prime.
Tasty Ways to Use Taro Root
Now that you have a little more information about taro root, you’re ready to use it in the kitchen. Here are some sweet and savory ways to enjoy this versatile tuber.
Taro Milk Tea
This sweet and creamy drink mixes taro powder or pureed taro root with jasmine green tea and either milk or creamer. Often, you’ll find it sweetened with sugar, honey or stevia. Just like any tea, feel free to enjoy it hot or cold. Plus, it naturally comes out a fun purple color!
Boba With Taro
This drink takes taro milk tea and adds some sweet and gummy tapioca pearls into the mix. The boba gives the tea a little more substance and a nice texture. It’s almost like getting a drink and a snack all in one!
Taro Root Chips
Like most starchy fruits and vegetables, taro root makes really good chips. They’re light and crispy, and they have a fun pop of purple confetti color that comes naturally from the taro. You can toss them with salt or use any other seasonings you want, either sweet or savory.
Taro-Based Ice Cream
The slightly nutty flavor of taro makes it a great ice cream flavor. It doesn’t hurt that the ice cream made from this tuber comes out a vibrant shade of purple. If you want to mix and match, combining taro ice cream with matcha ice cream gives you a beautiful blend of both flavors and colors.
While taro is often used in sweet dishes, this cake is traditionally a savory cake! It’s pan-fried and often topped with chopped scallions. Other popular toppings include sausage or other cured meats, seafood and mushrooms.
These taro buns are where the sweetness comes in. Soft and fluffy on the outside, they feature a smooth, sweet taro filling. The nutty flavor of the taro really comes out in the creamy paste at the center of these sweet buns.
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