Duruka is a vegetable cane that looks like baby corn and has a natural sweetness of sweet corn. The plant and the leaves look like corn and sugar cane plants. Although the plant resembles sugarcane from a distance, the stem is much narrower and the leaves thinner and more flexible. The large flower panicles do not open but remain inside their leaf sheaths forming a dense mass.
Its scientific name is saccharum edule and is also known as Fiji asparagus. Saccharum edule is a species of grass in the genus Saccharum, the sugarcanes. It is cultivated in tropical climates in south-eastern Asia and the unopened flower heads are eaten. Duruka is very common in the Pacific island countries especially in Fiji. Wild variety are found in these areas as well as South East Asia. Duruka is know as pit-pit throughout South East Asia.
Duruka is grown from cuttings of the stalks like sugar cane. It grows well in fertile damp soil and will reshoot from the base. The cuttings will require plenty of moisture at planting. Duruka cuttings about 300mm long are planted and to minimise drying out cuttings need to be planted soon after cutting.
The stalks can be planted at any time of the year. It takes 6-9 months from planting till a crop is ready to harvest. Duruka plant grows tall and generally grows wild in damp soil.
The time of flowering duruka is controlled by the sun. Hence, early in the year about February to March most plants develop a thickened clump of leaves at the top. These are then broken off and opened by removing the outside leaves. The very fine yellowish unopened flower is seen. It is this flower which is consumed.
Fijians distinguish two types of duruka and that is on the basis of the colour of the outer stem; duruka damu (red duruka) and duruka vula vula (white duruka). Red duruka has one variety whereas white duruka is known to have further six verities. The red variety is maturing first and may be harvested from April whereas the white variety is available in May.
The part that is eaten is the unopened flower, which must be removed from its sheath. The red shoot contains a more crumbly, nutty flavour in comparison to the softer green shoot. Both types have a stringy and fleshy consistency and are incredibly tasty. Duruka is a truly unique delicacy and sought after by the vegetarians and vegans. It can be cooked as a curry dish, in coconut cream or toasted in open fire or charcoal and eaten with chilli/salt/garlic seasoning or a dash of lemon juice.
Other ways you may cook the delicacy is in thick soup with pumpkin and tomatoes. The creamy soup of pumpkin blends well with the soft duruka fibres. You may be creative to make duruka omelette or duruka cooked with canned salmon. It tastes best in simple dishes.
The most popular way to prepare duruka is boiling it for about ten minutes in coconut cream, adding sliced onion and possibly a little crushed ginger root, for extra flavour. Most Fijians will insist on eating it with fish – though roast chicken and boiled taro root are the accompanying dishes for Sunday lunch.
Duruka is a seasonal crop and easy to grow. It requires low cost of production with good returns.