Taro–also called Dasheen–is a perennial tropical or subtropical plant commonly grown for its starchy but sweet flavored tuber; globular fleshy taproot of aroid family plants. Its underground root, known as corm, is one of the popular edible root vegetables in large parts Asia, Pacific islands, West Africa, and Amazonian regions of South America Taro is always served cooked, not raw.
The taro tuber is cooked like a potato, has a doughy texture, and can be used to make flour. Young taro leaves and stems can be eaten after boiling twice to remove the acrid flavor. Cook taro leaves like spinach. A paste called poi is made from the taro root. Taro grows to 3 feet tall (1m) or taller and has light green, elongated, heart-shaped leaves on long stalks. Taro tubers are rounded, about the size of a tennis ball; each plant grows one large tuber often surrounded by several smaller tubers.
In the garden
Taro is a tropical or subtropical plant that requires very warm temperatures–77° to 95°F (25-35°C)–and consistent moisture to thrive. Taro grows best in USDA zones 9-11. Taro can be grown for its tubers only where summers are long–at least 200 frost-free, warm days. Taro can be grown for its leaves in a greenhouse.
Taro is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows from 3 to 6 feet tall. Its leaves are light green, elongated, and heart shaped similar to an elephant’s ear. Tubers are spherical and about the size of a tennis ball often covered with brownish skin and hairs; the flesh is pinkish purple, beige or white. Taro requires seven months of hot weather to mature.
Grow 10 to 15 taro plants for each person in the household depending upon usage. Taro corms can be planted in dry or wet settings. Taro requires rich, moist, well-drained soil to moisture-retentive soil. In Asia taro is often planted in wet paddys. In dry setting, taro corms are planted in furrows or trenches about 6 inches (15cm) deep and covered by 2 to 3 inches (5-8cm) of soil. Taro grown for its leaves can be grown in temperatures as low as 59°F, outdoors or in a greenhouse. Taro grow best in a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
Plant taro when the weather and soil has warmed in spring. Taro requires at least 200 frost-free days to reach maturity. Taro is grown from small sections of tuber, small tubers, or suckers. Plant taro in furrows 6 inches (15cm) deep and cover corms with 2 to 3 inches of soil; space plants 15 to 24 inches apart in rows about 40 inches apart (or space plants equidistant 2 to 3 feet apart). Plants grow to about 36 inches tall and about 20 inches across.
Keep taro plants well watered; the soil should be consistently moist. Water taro often in dry weather. Feed taro with rich organic fertilizer, compost, or compost tea. Taro prefers a high-potassium fertilizer. A second crop of taro can be planted between taro rows about 12 weeks before the main crop is harvested.
Keep taro planting beds weed free. Keep the planting bed moist. In early spring, plant presprouted tubers with protection using a plastic tunnel or cloche. Plants grown in a greenhouse should be misted often.
Taro can be grown in a container in a greenhouse or warm cellar to force shoots or stems for winter use. Force tubers in a warm bed of sand. Cut and use shoots when they reach about 6 inches tall; shoots can be blanched by placing a heavy burlap tent over the shoots.
Aphids and Red spider mites may attack taro grown indoors. Taro leaf blight will cause circular water-soaked spots on leaves. Downy mildew may attack taro.
Taro tubers are harvested about 200 days after planting when leaves turn yellow and start to die. Lift taro roots like sweet potatoes before the first frost in autumn. Taro leaves can be picked as soon as the first leaf has opened; harvest taro leaves cut-and-come-again, never stripping the plant of all its leaves. Taro tubers can be boiled or fried like potatoes; taro leaves can be boiled like spinach.
There are various cultivars and forms of taro; some with purple leaves or purple veins in the leaves, some for growing in wet conditions and some for growing in dry conditions. Taro cultivars are often grouped by the color of their flesh–ranging from pink to yellow to white. Trinidad dasheen grows well in the United States. Taro tubers can be left in the ground after maturing as long as the ground does not freeze. Lifted taro tubers should be stored in a cool, dry place. Clean and store taro tubers like sweet potatoes. Use the largest corms first as they do not keep as well as smaller tubers.
In the Kitchen
In many countries around the world , where taro commonly called dasheen is grown are prepared differently and used for different reasons. In Trinidad and Tobago, where I am from, the leaves of the taro plant are used to make the Trinidadian variant of the Caribbean dish known as callaloo (which is made with okra, dasheen/taro leaves, coconut milk or creme and aromatic herbs) and it is also prepared similarly to steamed spinach. The root of the taro plant is often served boiled, accompanied by stewed fish or meat, curried, often with peas and eaten with roti, or in soups.
Some favourite taro/dasheen recipes:
- Dasheen salad
- Spicy Saheina
- Taro Cake
- Taro Ice Cream
- Dasheen Rice