Believed by Hawaiians to be the greatest life force of all foods.
Taro was believed to have been formed by the union of daughter earth and father sky, before man was born, and taro was honored as superior to man. Its traditional Hawaiian name is kalo and its cultivation was associated with the god Kane, procreator and life giver, provider of water and sun.
When Captain Cook discovered the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, the native population lived chiefly on taro and sweet potatoes supplemented with things from the sea. So intensive was its cultivation that there may have been up to 300 cultivars in Hawaii at that time.
Taro is eaten around the world but only Hawaiians make poi. The bowl of poi was such a sacred part of Hawaiian life that when it was uncovered at the dinner table all conflict ceased. People were not to argue or speak in anger.
Low in calories taro is one of the world’s most nutritious foods, often described as a “miracle food.” Typical of leaf vegetables, taro leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, and a very good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, copper, and manganese.
Taro corms are very high in starch, and are a good source of dietary fiber. Compared to potato, taro corm has a higher proportion of protein (1.5-3.0%), calcium, and phosphorus; it has a trace of fat, and is rich in vitamins A and C. Moreover, taro is 98.8% digestible.
WORLD’S OLDEST CULTIVATED CROP? Native to the lowland wetlands of Malaysia, taro was in cultivation in wet tropical India before 5000 B.C. Taro reached ancient Egypt, spread eastward into ancient China and Indonesia, was successful in tropical Africa, reached the New World tropics in the West Indies, and in the Pacific Islands the migration of taro went from Indonesia to New Zealand and eastward to the Hawaiian Islands where it arrived around 450 A.D
Today taro is the 14th most cultivated crop on earth. About 10% of the world’s population uses taro as a staple in the diet, and for 100 million people this is an important daily food.
Maui County produced close to 20% of Hawai`i’s 4.5 million pound crop in 2006. Since 2002 taro acreage has gone from 100 to 55 acres. Production dropped by 185 tons, and agricultural revenue fell by almost 18.5 percent.