When people think of vegetables to add to their diets, rarely do they think of taro root! However, the health benefits are fantastic! Taro root features a wide array of benefits, including the ability to improve digestion, lower blood sugar levels, prevent certain types of cancers, protect the skin, enhance vision, increase circulation, decrease blood pressure, aid the immune system, and prevent heart disease, while also supporting muscle and nerve health.
What Exactly Is Taro Root?
Taro root, which is the thick Tuber stalk of the taro plant. It’s an extremely important part of global cuisines and diets, as it has been for thousands of years. In fact, taro is considered one of the first cultivated plants in human history. Its scientific name is Colocasia esculenta and it has a fascinating history. It is believed to be native to Southeast Asia and southern India, but it’s cultivated and used in many places all around the world. Amazingly enough, it seems as though every culture uses taro in a slightly different way, depending on how it’s prepared and the variety of the crop that is grown. Taro root is also one of the few crops that can grow in flooded areas, due to its petioles, which can transfer materials even whilst underwater. A staple food in African, Indian, and Oceanic cuisines, taro root can be found everywhere from Japan, Egypt, and Suriname to the United States, Fiji, and Spain.
The most common form of taro root is Dasheen, and the plant is also commonly known as “elephant ears”, due to the shape of the broad leaves. The leaves, roots, and corms can be used as dietary ingredients, but the plant must be cooked because it’s actually toxic in raw form, due to the high content of oxalates! The dangerous substances can be easily be eliminated when cooked with some baking soda or if steeped overnight. The reason that this plant is so widely used is because it grows easily and fruitfully. More than 11.3 million metric tons of taro plants/roots are cultivated around the world each year. The health benefits of the plant are a added bonus of its frequent use, which is why it is gaining popularity in certain health-conscious cultures and populations. Now, let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of taro root.
Nutritional Value Of Taro Root
Taro roots contain a wealth of organic compounds, minerals, and vitamins that are essential for human health and can benefit our overall health in a number of different ways. Taro root contains a very significant amount of dietary fiber and carbohydrates, as well as high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B6, and folate, as well as magnesium, iron, zinc, phosphorous, potassium, manganese, and copper. The plant also provides some protein in your diet, but the amount is almost negligible.
One cup of taro, raw, has 1.56 grams protein, 116 calories and 4.3 grams of dietary fiber.
Potassium – 615 mg
Phosphorus – 87 mg
Magnesium – 34 mg
Calcium – 45 mg
Iron – 0.57 mg
Sodium – 11 mg
Zinc – 0.24 mg
Copper – 0.179 mg
Manganese – 0.398 mg
Selenium – 0.7 mcg
Vitamin C – 4.7 mg
Niacin – 0.624 mg
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) – 0.099 mg
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – 0.026 mg
Vitamin B6 – 0.294 mg
Folate – 23 mcg
Pantothenic Acid – 0.315 mg
Vitamin A – 79 IU
Vitamin K – 1 mcg
Vitamin E – 2.48 mg
(Contains other nutrients and minerals not necessarily listed here)
Health Benefits Of Taro Root
The health benefits of Taro Root include its ability to improve digestive health, prevent cancer, improve vision health, and much more.
One of the most important functions of taro root in the diet is its role in digestion. The high level of dietary fiber found in taro root (a single serving contains 27% of the daily requirement of dietary fiber) makes it very important for supporting our gastrointestinal health. The fiber is great for regularity, thereby helping food move through the digestive tract and facilitating improved digestion. This can help to prevent certain conditions such as excess gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, and even diarrhea. A healthy, regulated gastrointestinal system can greatly boost your overall health and reduce your chances of various types of cancer.
And on the topic of cancer, taro root also plays an important part for the antioxidant activity in our body. The high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and various other phenolic antioxidants found in taro root boost our immune system and help eliminate dangerous free radicals from our system. Free radicals are the dangerous by-products of cellular metabolism that can cause healthy cells to mutate and turn into cancerous cells. By eliminating these free radicals, our general health is almost guaranteed! Cryptoxanthin, which is found in taro root, is directly connected to a lowered chance of developing both lung and oral cancers.
Taro Root & Diabetes Prevention
Dietary fiber can also help lower the chances of developing diabetes because it regulates the release of insulin and glucose in the body. If you have a sufficient level of fiber, which taro root provides, then you can manage your glycemic levels and lower your chances of developing diabetes. If you have diabetes, then fiber-rich foods like taro root can help prevent the dangerous spikes and plunges in blood sugar.
Improved Heart Health
Taro root contains a significant level of potassium, which is another of the essential minerals that we need to remain healthy and functional. Potassium not only facilitates healthy fluid transfers between membranes and tissues throughout the body but also helps to relieve stress and pressure on blood vessels and arteries. By relaxing the veins and blood vessels, blood pressure can be reduced and stress on the overall cardiovascular system is reduced. Potassium has even been connected to increased cognitive function because neural connections can be boosted when blood pressure is reduced, and fluid transfer between neural membranes is optimized!
As mentioned above, taro root contains various antioxidants, including beta-carotene and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidants can help to improve vision as well, by preventing the free radicals from attacking ocular cells and causing macular degeneration or cataracts!
Taro Root & Skin Care Health
Between vitamin E and vitamin A, our skin is well protected when we add taro root to our diets. Both of these essential vitamins work to eliminate skin conditions and boost overall cellular health, meaning that our wounds and blemishes heal faster, wrinkles can be diminished, and a healthy glow can be returned to the skin. Taro root is nature’s little secret to healthier skin!
Taro Root Boosts the Immune System
Perhaps the most important element of taro root for health is its role in the immune system. It has a very high level of vitamin C in each serving, which stimulates the immune system to create more white blood cells, which defend the body from foreign pathogens and agents. Furthermore, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which partially prevents the development of conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
The mineral content of taro root has dozens of useful applications, but the dual presence of iron and copper in taro root make it a very important food to prevent anemia and boost circulation throughout the body. Iron and copper are both essential for the production of red blood cells, which carry the all-important oxygen to our body’s systems and cells. It helps in lowering your chances of anemia (iron deficiency) and boosting the flow of blood through the body. This, in turn, helps to increase the metabolic activity, growth of new cells, and general oxygenation of the body, which results in the organs and systems functioning at their optimal levels!
What to Do with It
Taro is an important dietary staple used in both savory and sweet dishes across much of the tropical and sub-tropical world. Taro corms can be steamed, boiled, braised, mashed, roasted and fried, while the leaves of the plant are typically boiled or steamed and can be used like other cooked green, leafy vegetables (see the Nutrition and Effects on the Body section, above for more info on cooking taro properly). The root is also dried and turned into flour for making baked goods.
Cooking & Preparation of Taro Root
Taro is a fairly common ingredient all over the world – including in Pacific Island, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian and several African cuisines. In Hawaii, taro is cooked and pounded into a paste (poi) and used as a side dish or condiment. (As an aside, poi can also be made from other things – like sweet potatoes and bananas.) Chinese cuisine uses taro in dishes like this savory taro root cake. And here’s a video on how to make your own Chinese crispy taro root basket! In parts of West Africa, taro is used to make the staple dish fufu. It’s also becoming increasingly easy to find taro root chips at the grocery store, or you can bake your own.
Taro root is used extensively in sweet dishes across the world. In Hawaii, grated taro is mixed with coconut milk and steamed for a confection called kulolo (a similar dessert is made in Samoa, called fausi; in Thailand, an analogous dessert is bua loi phuak). In Chinatown in New York City, one can easily find taro ice cream, and in the Fillipino part of Queens, bakeries sell delicious sweet buns filled with purple taro custard (also common in Chinese bakeries). Here’s a beautiful-looking sweet taro cake made with taro root powder (with cream cheese icing!).
Taro leaves are similar in taste to spinach, although as we note above, must be cooked for muchlonger. In some Caribbean cuisines, taro leaves may be referred to as callaloo (although different plants may be called callaloo on different islands), and are cooked as a green vegetable. Hawaiians wrap all sorts of delicious things in taro leaves – called generally laulau, the parcels are usually steamed for several hours before unwrapping and eating.
Taro Root Storage
Unlike many other root vegetables, taro corms cannot be stored for long periods of time. Store them in a cool, dark place for no more than a couple of days. Taro leaves are also highly perishable. Wrap them in damp paper towels and store in the fridge in a zip-top bag for no more than two to three days.
Please Note: The only major problem with taro root is its extremely high-calorie content. Every 100 grams contains 112 calories, which can be an issue for people trying to lose weight. It has more carbohydrates by volume than potatoes, so overdoing it with taro root can cause obesity if you aren’t careful. Eat taro root in moderation, to get the health benefits, without packing on the pounds!
Now that you’ve learned everything about taro root, make sure to go out and get some. We think you’ll be glad you did!
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