I've walked past this funny-looking tuberous vegetable more times than I can count when I shop at my local Whole Foods. Maybe you have too? Or perhaps you've spotted it listed on a menu somewhere, or while strolling through an Asian grocery store. Or maybe you've been eating this purple-tinged root since day one. We'll count you as one of the lucky ones. For the rest of us, it's time we figure out what taro is and what we should do with it.
What Is Taro Root?
Taro root comes from the taro plant, which is native to Southeast Asia and India and is a staple in diets there as well as Africa, China, the Caribbean, and Hawaii. Both the big green leaves of the plant and the root itself can be consumed when cooked. In their raw form, both are toxic.
There are lots of varieties of taro, from small to large and from white-fleshed to purple-flecked ones. It's most commonly used and prepared much like a potato, as it's equally starchy and similar in flavor, with taro taking on a nuttier, richer, and more complex taste overall. Compared to a white potato, it has three times the amount of fiber, and is also a rich source of potassium, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Taro fries, anyone?
How to Cook with Taro Root
The culinary uses for taro root are endless — it's cooked up in various savory and sweet ways around the world. The popular Hawaiian dish poi is simply mashed taro root and is eaten alone or as a side dish for meat. In parts of India, it's often cubed and added to curries. And perhaps most commonly known in the U.S. is taro as a flavoring for bubble tea. As a general rule, treat taro root like you would a potato or sweet potato — it can be roasted, boiled, simmer, mashed, or fried.
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When preparing it, you'll want to wear gloves or wrap your hands around a kitchen towel, as the fuzzy brown exterior can actually irritate the skin. Simply cut away that outer layer before cutting and cooking the root.