Taro root is a hearty carbohydrate rich in calcium. The part you eat is actually not the root, but a corm. However, most people think of it as a root because it grows underground. This has been a staple of the Hawaiian diet ever since there were Hawaiians.
In fact the Taro plant has been grown as a staple of all kinds of cultures. Greece and Rome have accounts of Taro, as do Egypt and ancient India. The plant has been cultivated across the world for over 5000 years. In fact Hawaiians tell it that Kalo (Taro) was around before humans, and that we are related.
In the old days, Kona was a sea of taro leaves rippling gently in the breeze. What is now the Kona Coffee Belt was once the Kona Gardens system, and the amount of Taro Root produced was enough to support a huge population. There is still rock terraces with deep soil where the Taro was cultivated.
Taro must be cooked in order for it to be edible. Taro contains calcium oxalate, a crystal like substance that has a similar effect on the mouth as would fiberglass. People that eat raw Taro root often end up in the hospital. Cooking taro destroys the crystals, and makes taro a enjoyable experience.
Taro Root can be eaten in a variety of ways. The most common are eating it just cooked and sliced with some kind of garnish, and Poi. Poi is a paste made by mashing cooked Taro, and mixing with water until it reaches the desired consistency.
Ulu (Breadfruit) and Uala (Sweet Potato) were the other major staples in the Hawaiian diet, but Kalo (Taro) was the most prized. There are accounts of so many different varieties of Taro that the Hawaiians grew, that they are not sure if they didn't just have different names for the same variety.
AS trade grew and rice became readily available, and the land was used for other agriculture, Taro production almost disappeared. In fact on the Big Island today, we import Taro Root from other countries to support our Taro demands.
Here is a picture of a Lo'i, a wet land taro patch, in Waipio Valley.
Taro Production in Modern Hawaii
On the Big Island, Taro production as a major crop is rare, except in Waipio Valley. In the valley you will find acres of Lo'is, the Hawaiian wet land taro patches. Using ancient techniques still today, these Taro patches turn out quite a bit of Taro.
Taro is also grown on dry lands in smaller amounts all over the Big Island. It is not uncommon for families to be able to harvest a five gallon bucket of taro every week from their back yard taro crop.
Still on the Big Island, we do not produce enough Taro to meet our demand. In fact the demand is so great nowadays, one pound of Poi goes for about five dollars.
Here is another picture of Taro Root production in Waipio Valley.
Say NO To Genetically Modified Taro
Genetically Engineered Organisms (GMOs) are a relatively new science. I remember when they first started using GMOs in agriculture, some heralded it as a amazing breakthrough, and others called it evil.
I myself never really liked the idea of it for a few different reasons. For one thing it is an unproven science that seems like a gamble. You end up replacing a perfectly good crop, with something that might be an improvement. But what are the stakes?
If the GMO has less immunity to diseases and variables in a natural environment, it will effect the healthy crops adversely. If the GMO crossbreeds with the original plant, the genetics will be forever changed. If the GMO fails down the line, say ten generations in, the effect of these variables is even greater.
Another reason I don't like GMOs is that it puts to much control in the hands of corporations and scientists. At one point, one of the leading GMO seed producers was producing crops that would not make viable seeds. Making the farmer buy seeds every year from the company. This in particular really scared me. If all the crops related to this GMO somehow crossbreed with it, will they produce viable seeds?