Nutritious Fruits and Veggies from Around the World- Africa
The interesting thing about nutrition is you start to learn different things about what you and other people could eat. It is also an experience when you learn about different nutritious things around the world. It brings cultural understanding through the exercise of exposing yourself to something different. There is always a new way to explore nutrition. Whether you go to a cultural festival or just talk to someone from another place. Because everyone, no matter where they come from, needs to eat to survive. So, we are going to look at a new fruit or vegetable from around the globe, talk about its nutritional value and explore its history
Cocoyam or Taro Root
This interesting plant grows in the tropics with an edible root about the size of a turnip. The plant itself grows up to six feet tall with large heart-shaped leaves and can be grown ornamentally. Beneath the skin of the root or corm, the color of its flesh varies from white to cream to yellow or purple, depending on the species. It is very fibrous and starchy, much like a potato, and has a somewhat sweet and nutty flavor. The hairy outer coating on a taro root is similar to a coconut. These hairs consist of rough, microscopic, spines from the leaves and root and can pierce the skin. The hairy outer layer is always removed with caution since skin irritation can arise caused by the juices secreted by the taro root.
Warning: A very important thing to note is that while it is true that people eat it, no one should never consume it raw. Raw taro roots contain a chemical compound known as calcium oxalate. When you eat uncooked taro, the calcium oxalate makes your mouth feel numb. Eat too much, and you’ll feel like you’re choking. It is toxic and is the same chemical compound that contributes to kidney stones. Thankfully, the toxins can be cooked out and the small needles that are on the skin and leaves can come off.
But why do people cook it and eat it anyway? What is it about the Taro Root that is worth that sort of risk?
The first interesting thing about the Taro is that while it does have a higher calorie count compared to a potato, it still has more than three times the fiber content. It also has a much lower glycemic index compared to the potato, ranking only at 18 while potatoes rank at 111. This is beneficial for anyone who is watching their blood sugar intake or has any digestive problems.
Taro root also has a great source of potassium, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, and copper. Even the leaves are edible. They are rich in vitamin A and C as well as protein. Just like the root, however, the leaves require cooking before consumption.
And the best news of all is, like a potato, they are nutty and slightly sweet. They would make for a great potato substitute and have the same kind of versatility. They are even key ingredients to some desserts, something that is rarely seen in a potato dish.
So, when did we discover it was good for us? Who grows it now?
Taro Root History and Cultivation
The taro root has been cultivated for a very long time. According to Wikipedia, “Archaeological traces of taro exploitation have been recovered from numerous sites some wild, some domesticated. The earliest evidence of cultivation points to the Polynesian Islands at around 10,000 years ago, but there has been evidence that has predated cultivation long before that.”
It made its way through various trades between SouthEast Asia to Egypt. Eventually, the Taro became a staple of both Africa and Asia.
From there, the taro would emigrate from the Polynesian empire to other parts of SouthEastern Asia and Hawaii, during the expansion of the Tonga empire around the 15oos. The African slave trade and the conquering of the Americas also meant the introduction to the Taro root to places like Florida and South America/Mexico.
Today, the largest worldwide producer of the Taro Root is in Africa, specifically Nigeria. They are one of the few crops that can grow in flooded environments and require cool, flowing water for proper gaseous exchange.
There are a variety of genetically diverse subspecies of taro, that has lead to a variety of sizes, coloration, and other small differences in features. Try to learn about it or introduce it into your diet if you feel adventurous. It won’t disappoint.