Taro is a root crop that is an important food staple throughout the Pacific. It is grown in the humid tropical climate and needs plenty of water. However, taro is suitable for both, wetland and dryland growing. Taro is believed to be native to the tropical regions of south India and south-east Asia. It is primarily consumed as root vegetables for the starchy corms or tubers as well as a leaf vegetable.
The corms are usually boiled, steamed or baked. However, taro may also be fried to make chips that are like fries or crisps. Taro is also cooked in curries, coconut milk and sweet dishes. The taro leaves and roots must be cooked properly before eating. Otherwise due to chemicals present in the plant will make the vegetable taste bitter. Furthermore, taro is toxic in raw form because of the high oxalates content. However, the dangerous substance is removed when cooked or if steeped overnight. When cooked, taro is a nutritious addition to both sweet and savoury meals. Consumption of frozen taro is getting more common in the western world due to its long storage time and convenience.
Taro has a low glycaemic index; therefore, it provides slow sustained release of energy to the human body. Hence, taro is a desirable food to treat and prevent blood sugar disorders such as diabetes and hypoglycaemia. These disorders are widespread in western culture. Consuming taro may also provide health benefits to improving digestion, increase circulation, boost vision health and help the immune system. Certain studies show that taro may prevent heart disease, protect the skin, supports muscle and nerve health.
Taro roots are packed with a wealth of organic compounds, vitamins and minerals that are important for the human body. It can help our health in many different ways. Taro roots contain substantial amounts of dietary fibre and carbohydrates as well as vitamin A, C, E, B6. Furthermore, corms are rich in folate, magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorous, potassium, manganese, and copper.
Consuming taro roots as part of a healthy eating plan, it may help prevent bloating, constipation, excess gas and diarrhoea. The high fibre content helps bowel movements and facilitates improved digestion. Taro root is high in fibre and resistant starch, which help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. Due to the high fibre and resistant starch content, taro root may increase feelings of fullness and reduce overall calorie intake. Thus, increase fat burning, potentially leading to weight loss and reduced body fat. Taro contains a variety of antioxidants and polyphenols that protect against free radical damage.
Taro is a staple in Africa and the South Pacific islands and world production averages 9.5 million tonnes. The main taro producing countries are Nigeria, China, Cameroon and Ghana. To produce taro, farm equipment requirements are a tractor, bed former, spray equipment. Harvesting is quite labour intensive as it is all done manually. Most South Pacific island countries grow taro organically which is healthier and tastier. However, it may not always be organically certified. These countries are now producing substantial amounts of frozen taro which is very popular and frequently eaten.
Taro roots are ready to harvest when the leaves become smaller. The leaf stalks will shorten, and the corm pushes above the soil. The quality of the crop deteriorates if left in the ground for too long. With the innovation of freezing technology, more and more mobile processing plants are set up either at the farm gate or near farms to processing frozen taro.
Following harvest, tops are trimmed off the roots and possibly graded by size. Corms are packed into fibreboard cartons and usually freighted by road or rail to markets at capital cities, under ambient storage temperature for fresh produce. Taro should be consumed within two weeks; however cold storage will extend their shelf life. Frozen taro will store for up to two years.
Whole fresh taro is the major product that is traded in the market. The fresh taro that is imported into Australia is mainly from Fiji and Samoa. Frozen taro is also sourced from Fiji and Samoa; however, they are imported from Asian countries too. Frozen taro market is growing significantly in Australia, New Zealand and North America.