About taro

Taro belongs to the family Araceae that includes a number of species that produce edible tubers or corms.

Taro is native to south-central Asia, perhaps India, and was introduced throughout the Pacific with migrations of Polynesian people from the Malay peninsula through the Sunda Islands and New Guinea. Malaysian, Indonesian and Chinese groups fishing off northern Australia probably introduced it into Australia well before European settlement.

Taro is a minor crop in Australia and there has been little systematic selection and research.

Botanical description

Taro is a member of the Araceae family, which includes the philodendron, anthurium and dieffenbachia plants. It is an erect stemless herbaceous plant with large, peltate, heart-shaped leaves borne on long petioles. Leaves are usually green or sometimes purple. The plant, especially Polynesian types, can grow up to 2 m high. Flowering and seed production are infrequent, so taro is usually propagated vegetatively.

The bulbous corms are cylindrical and vary in size, normally 30-40 cm long. A corm is a short upright underground stem encircled with rings from where leaves have arisen. These appear as dark, scaly or papery sheaths. The flesh may be purple, white, yellow or pinkish, depending on the variety, with a cheesy or slimy consistency compared to the potato.

The taro plant belongs to the genus Colocasia. Other plants sometimes referred to as taro include the giant taro (Cyrtosperma), a taller plant with larger leaves and coarser roots; Xanthosoma, grown mainly in Melanesia and has pointed leaves; and Alocasia, referred to as 'poor man's taro'. 

Cultivars

There are over 200 known taro cultivars, but only a small proportion is cultivated. Different types are distinguished by plant height, corm size, sucker production, leaf shape, and leaf and stem colour. Cultivars also differ in crop duration, those currently grown in the wet tropical coast of North Queensland have a duration of around 7 to 12 months.

There are hard and soft taro cultivars. It is important that growers understand the basic differences in texture, flavour, appearance, etc. between cultivars, as these may influence marketing success.

The 'true' taro, Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott, is one of the main traditional staple food crops in the New Guinea group of islands and the Pacific islands. The names may differ from island to island - cocoyam, dasheen, koko, bari, dalo, wu tau, poi, etc. The most commonly marketed taro cultivar in Australia is pan long wu or bun-long, a soft-cooking type desired in Asian cooking. This group have a large-corm.

Another significant grouping are the jap taro or small-corm types (Colocasia esculenta var. antiquorum). They are referred to as 'satoimo', the cultivar Ishikawa wasse is the dominant variety in Japan. People of Pacific and Torres Strait origin generally prefer types that retain a firm texture after cooking. Also grown in small areas are cultivars imported from Fiji, Toakula and Vavai Loa. Some Papua New Guinea cultivars are grown by Torres Strait Islanders, but are mainly consumed locally. Samoan cultivars are becoming increasingly significant, they include the pink taro tausala ni Samoa (taro niue) and Samoan pink. 

Nutritional information

Leaves, young shoots and corms are eaten. Corms may be boiled, baked, fried, barbecued, or cooked in curries or coconut milk. Leaves are generally not eaten, but traditional communities cook them like any green vegetable. The root and leaves have a particular flavour that can give an acrid or sharp taste because of calcium oxalate crystals. Fortunately, cooking destroys the acridity. The main cultivars are relatively free from calcium oxalate crystals. Taro contains a range of vitamins and minerals, which are listed in the table below. 

Nutritional information about taro
Components* Corms Leaves Petioles
Edible portion (%) 81 55 84
Energy (cal.) 85 69 19
Moisture (%) 77.5 79.6 93.8
Protein (g) 2.5 4.4 0.2
Fat (g) 0.2 1.8 0.2
Carbohydrate (g) 19 12.2 4.6
Fibre (g) 0.4 3.4 0.6
Calcium (mg) 32 268 57
Phosphorus (mg) 64 78 23
Sodium (mg) 7 11 5
Potassium (mg) 514 1237 367
Iron (mg) 0.8 4.3 1.4>
Vit A (IU) Trace 20385 335
Thiamine (mg) 0.18 0.10 0.01
Riboflavin (mg) 0.04 0.33 0.02
Niacin (mg) 0.9 2.0 0.2
Ascorbic acid (Vit C) (mg) 10 142 8

* Per 100 g edible portion

Further information

References

  • Carmichael, A. et al. (2008) TaroPest - An illustrated guide to pests and diseases of taro in the South Pacific. ACIAR monograph # 132
  • Daniells, J.W., Hughes, M., Traynor, M., Vawdrey, L. and Astridge, D. (2008) Taro Industry Development: The First Step. RIRDC Publication no 09/066.
  • Daniells, J. W., Petiniaud, P. and Salleras, P. (2004) Taro. In 'The new crop industries handbook' eds. S. Salvin, M. Bourke and T. Byrne. RIRDC Publication No 04/125. pp 90-97.
  • Hughes, M.J., Daniells, J.W., Vawdrey, L.L., Astridge, D.A. and Traynor, M. (2008) Australian taro industry: benchmark survey. Queensland DPI&F PR08-3392. 57pp.
  • Lambert, M (ed.) 1982, 'Taro cultivation in the South Pacific', South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia.
  • Purseglove, JW 1972, Tropical crops, 'Monocotyledons 1', Longman Group Limited.

Last updated 07 April 2014