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Aroids: A World Food

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(C) Sheri Ann Richerson and Julius Boos

History Of:

Aroids are believed to be one of the oldest cultivated crops known to man. They were grown in Asia as a food crop over 10,000 years ago. It is believed that many Asian rice-growing terraces were originally developed for Colocasia cultivation. The rice that has subsequently been cultivated in these fields was believed to have been discovered as a weed that was found growing wild in the wet taro fields. Rice then evolved as a major food crop while Colocasia cultivation diminished.

In the 1400’s when the very first European explorers arrived on the West Indian Islands off South America the inhabitants of these Islands were found to be consuming tuberous aroids. The main species that was eaten here was Xanthosoma, which is often called ‘yautia’ and ‘ocumo’; both words are believed to be of aboriginal origin. It is also often referred to as tannia or malanga.

Other aroids that were consumed by the people of the West Indies Islands included at least one Dracontium species and Caladium bicolor. The natives transported these plants and some animals such as the red-footed tortoise and giant land snail up the West Indian Island chain in their canoes, and they were often referred to as ‘journey food.’

Colocasia or taro was transported across the Pacific by Hawaiian and other Polynesian people during their epic ocean voyages. It was also a food on the ships that brought slaves from Africa to the New World . However, Xanthosoma replaced Colocasia on these ships for the return voyage back to Africa . This is why you will hear Colocasia referred to as ‘old co-co yam’ and Xanthosoma referred to as ‘new co-co yam.’

Today, taro remains a national Hawaiian dish. Over 200 cultivars have been recorded, some grown for their tubers while others are grown for their leaves and inflorescence which can be cooked and eaten in a variety of ways.

Edible Varieties:

Atlas - How to Grow Crops
Atlas - How to Grow Crops

Many aroids are eaten in one way or another although they are mainly used as a carbohydrate or starch food. These days with more people traveling to far off, exotic locations, more records of aroids being used as food are coming to light. Aroids can be fried as ‘chips,’ cooked and added to ice cream, curries, stews or soups as a potato substitute or flavoring and the leaves can be used as a spinach or wrap. Here are a few varieties that are commonly used as well as the locations that they are used.

Colcasia esculenta is a common aroid that is used as a food product all over the tropical world. Locations include India , Asia, Africa, the pacific region, the West Indies, Florida and even the Carolinas . The use of Xanthosoma has also spread to these areas, although possibly to a lesser extent.

Amorphophallus species are widely used as food in Japan , China , and the Far East as well as in South India . These plants are extensively grown in these regions. The tubers as well as the leaves and seeds of this genus are used.

The inflorescence of Spathiphyllum species are also considered a food product for the people of Central America and the Guyanas as are the young leaves and flowers of Caladium bicolor.

Typhonium species are often prepared and eaten by the Australian Aborigines. The rhizomes of this genus were specially prepared and used as food by the Native Americans in addition to Symplocarpus foetidus, which was often used to make peppery bread.

Other edible aroid tubers that are often prepared because of their starchy properties include species of Arum and Arisaema. Calla palustris is sometimes used by the Lapps in Finland to make flour for bread. Montrichardia seeds can be roasted and are eaten by South American Indian tribes.

Cyrtosperma merkusii is a big part of some of the isolated Western Pacific Island cultures and is an integral part of their wealth as well as their culture. On some of these islands where taro cannot be cultivated, large pits are dug in the coral substrate, and then the pits fill with brackish water that filters in. Big baskets are woven from coconut leaves; a plant of Cyrtosperma is then put in this basket together with leaf mulch, coconut husks, pig manure and other similar material. This basket is then lowered into the pit. The natives must then wait three to six years before harvesting this crop. Some of the tubers can weigh up to 120 pounds! The tubers are then used for a status symbol as a gift to rival clans for feasts.

Finally, the fruit of several aroids can be eaten including the fruit obtained from Monstera deliciosa, several Philodendron species as well as Montrichardia species.

Recipes:

Aroid Casserole

Use any edible Xanthosoma sp. such as tannia, malanga blanca, yautia, or dasheen.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. of any of the above aroids
  • Seasoned and cooked ground beef (approx. 1/2 lb.)
  • 1 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup whole milk

Method: With gloves or oiled hands, wash and peel your choice of aroid. Cut into chunks and boil in salted water for 15 minutes. or until done. Drain and mash cooked aroid (as you would potatoes), add milk, powdered seasonings to taste. Mix in cooked ground beef and pile in a greased, pie dish. Using a fork, score the top, add a few dabs of butter (or grated cheese, optional) and bake until top is brown and crisp – about 45 minutes.

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Eddoes Recipe

Bajan “Slippery Dips” In Devil Sauce [Passed on to my by my Mother, from her mother, a ‘bajan’ from the Island of Barbados .]

Made from eddoes (Colocasia esculenta var. antiquorum.)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. eddoes (firm, very little or no “sprout” at the growth tip)
  • 1 purple onion (or Spanish yellow onion)
  • 1/4 tsp. finely minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 green habanero or other chili pepper
  • 1 lime

Method: With a sharp paring knife, peel eddoes (wear gloves or oil hands to prevent itching). Place in a medium sized sauce pan, cover with water, add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 tablespoon butter or margarine and bring to a boil. (Be careful, your pot will froth or “boil over” if fire is too hot!) and cook for 15 minutes. (I like to cook mine for 5 minutes longer after they test tender right through with a cake tester (approx, 20 minutes total). If eddoes are large you can cut in half or thirds so that pieces are approx. 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″. (If you’re using dasheen, cut into 2″ cubes.)

While your eddoes are cooking, peel and mince your garlic (or use 1/2 tsp. of bottled minced garlic). Peel onion, cut in half from top to bottom then slice very thinly. Wearing gloves, cut rings off green hot chili. Starting at the bottom, discard any seeds. Use a knife and fork as your hands will blister if you handle fresh, hot chilies! I’m serious! When eddoes are done, pour them, together with their cooking water (you may have to discard a little) directly into a heat-resistant glass or stainless steel serving dish (no
aluminum!!) Add black pepper, garlic, chili slices (if spicy food is not your thing, you can leave the chilies out) and sliced onions on top, plus the rest of the butter or margarine. Squeeze half of a fresh lime over everything, stir, let sit 5 minutes and serve hot with broiled, baked, steamed or fried fish.

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Tannia Accras Or Fritters

Using tannia, (malanga blanca), Xanthosoma sagittifolia. You can also use Yautia amarilla or malanga amarilla, Xanthosoma (?) attroverins.

  • 2 – 3 small tannias or 1 cup grated tannia
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 – 2 blades chives
  • 1/2 tsp. bicarbonate of soda or 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

Method: Wearing gloves or with oiled hands, wash and peel tannias. Wash again and grate finely. Chop seasonings finely and mix all ingredients well. Drop by spoonfuls into smoking hot vegetable oil. (Don’t use too much batter for each accra , or they will be uncooked in the middle). Fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towel, serve at once.

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Tannia Or Eddoes Cream Soup

Use eddoes (Colocasia esculenta) or tannia or malanga blanca (Xanthosoma saggittifolia).

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 1 lb. tannias or eddoes
  • 2 cups water or light stock
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 blades chives & other herbs to taste
  • 2 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or 1/4 cup light cream
  • 4 tbsp. bread croutons

Method: With gloves or oiled hands, peel, wash and roughly cut up tannias and seasonings. Melt butter in an enameled or aluminum pot and lightly fry tannia and seasonings without browning (use a cover). Add stock and salt. Heat to boiling, skim, then simmer until tannia is soft and coming apart. Place mixture in blender and puree until smooth. Add milk or cream, re-heat and serve at once. Serve with croutons.

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West Indian Shepherd’s Pie

Use dasheen (also called taro, malanga cabeza or malanga islena) Colocasia esculenta var. esculenta.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb. left over cooked ground beef, chopped goat meat or lamb.
  • 1-1/4 lb. dasheen
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, warmed
  • 2-3 tbsp. butter or margarine
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese

Method: With gloves or oiled hands, peel and cut dasheen into chunks. Boil in lightly salted water until tender – 20-25 minutes. Mash until smooth, adding milk, butter, powdered seasonings and salt to taste and until dasheen is smooth. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place cooked meat in a greased 2-qt. casserole and spread mashed dasheen over the meat. Sprinkle grated cheese on top. Bake for 30 minutes. or until top is brown. (You may have to brown top under grill for a couple minutes).

Note–depending on what var. of dasheen you get, this topping can be very light, of rather ‘sticky’, to ME all are good! If the dasheen takes on a gray-blue color when boiling, this is a GOOD sign! Some white ones are also good too, we had a very gluey type recently in Fr. Guyana, but it was great!

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We use the large land-crabs, which are kept in a pen, purged with fresh, green chili leaves, fed soaked soft corn, then cleaned and cooked with the calaloo. A good substitute is the larger American ‘blue’ crabs, but cleaned (backs removed, tripe cleaned out), or bits of shrimp.

By the way, when Julius made this and other Aroid-based ‘treats’ for his presentation at the monthly Aroid meeting at Fairchild gardens a couple of years ago, some sort of strange malandy overcame some of the normally cultured ‘guests’, it made them raise their plates to face-level and lick them clean! The late Dr. Monroe Birdsey was particularly fond of this calaloo!

Callaloo

Traditionally this Caribbean soup is made with taro root leaves (Colocasia esculenta, ‘dasheen’ leaves) but spinach can be substituted.

Serves 4-6

  • 2 ounces Salt pork, diced
  • 1 medium Onion, diced
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 pound Colocasia esculenta (dasheen) leaves, chopped
  • 6 cups Chicken broth
  • 8 ounces Okra, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Thyme
  • 8 ounces Crabmeat
  • 1 cup Coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the pork in a large, heavy soup pot. Add the onion and garlic and cook until just soft. Stir in the spinach and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth, thyme, and okra. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and crab. Simmer for 15 minutes longer. Check the seasoning. Serve warm.

Grand Finale:

When you stop to think about it, aroids not only make unique plants but also are useful as food. This is one feat that you can’t say has been accomplished by many plants. Typical vegetable plants are definitely not an attractive addition to most landscapes in the manner that aroids are, nor have typical vegetable plants ever drawn the crowds that many aroids do.

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