Poi, taro, elephant ears, eating without dying

zippelkJuly 1, 2006

Hi all, I am interested in growing 'elephant ears' to make Poi, a food made from the corm of the taro plant. Taro is Colocasia esculenta and also commonly called elephant ears. But, many other plants go by the name elephant ears, including Xanthosoma and Caladium. Are these others edible as well (when properly prepared, as must taro be)? Or how does one distinguish true C. esculenta? What are the large 'elephant ear' corms sold in the garden section of Wally World (aka Walmart)? thanks

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Hi. According to the book, Hawaiian Organic Growing Guide, Alocasia macrorrhiza is the scientific name of "Elephant ears". The scientific name of "taro" is Colocasia esculenta. Elephant ear and caladium are not edible though they are related to taro.
All parts of the taro can be eaten but "...All parts of the taro plant contain an acrid principle, irritating to mouth and throat, which is due to pointed crystals of calcium oxalate that are present in the plant parts; long cooking destroys their activity...Many kinds are best for their tubers, a few serving for table use (baked or boiled), but most being made into poi...Other kinds are best for sprouts, stalks, or leaves."
The elephant's ear looks like a huge taro plant and also contains oxalate crystals. The underground stem (large tuber) is cooked for a long time like taro. It originated in southern Asia. The ancient Hawaiians cultivated it but the plant was not considered a desirable food source and was utilized only in times of famine.
Here in Hawaii people still grow elephant ear but only for the purpose of landscaping--not eating. Caladiums are also only decorative. I have not heard of anyone--not even the ancient Hawaiians eating these.
Because the taro plant is extremely variable in appearance (size, shape, color) and contain over 200 different varieties, it would be hard to describe or recommend any one type. Here, stores such as Home Depot sell a smooth leaved black(ish) taro, a light green (allmost an apple green color), and one that is light green with crinkled leaf patterns. Unfortunately, there are no specific names attached to them.
Okay, so. Here goes with a recipe used many times by my family:
Palisami (Samoan dish)
- 1 can of corned beef (not the one with potato)
- 1 bunch of taro leaves, uncooked (there maybe 25 stems in a bunch--darn, I never counted)
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 1 cup of mayonaise
- 1 onion
Wash taro leaves. Strip the stem and center of leaf (the rib) by taking the "skin" off it. You may also decide to discard the stem; I just tuck them in --You might want to wear gloves if you have sensitive skin. I don't have sensitive skin but I wear gloves because the crystals sting after a while.-- Place one layer of leaves on the bottom of a baking pan; tuck the stripped stems around the leaves if you are using them. Place canned corned beef in even layer on top of this. Sprinkle chopped onion on top of corned beef. Now dot and spread mayo on top of the corned beef. Cover the whole thing with more taro leaves. Finally empty can of coconut milk over this.
Note: You can use more corned beef (but not too much because you want to "balance" the taste. You can also add more mayo--again, think "balance". I also add black pepper over the corned beef.
Cover with tin foil. Cook for 1 and 1/2 hour at 350.
Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2006 at 1:42AM
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I have but one thing to say about this: Be very careful. I have read authorative books on these plants that were dead wrong, saying this or that "elephant ear" was edible when it absolutely was not. Too many authors copy rather than KNOW what they write about. Here in Florida, in recent years, a member of that family has choked waterways. Several books said the roots were edible. I collected some, and fortunately for me decided to peel them. When I got done peeling I noticed the webs in my fingers were burning -- from the acid the plants were not supposed to have. My advice is if you find one in the wild that is supposed to be edible, cut it open and handle it for a half hour or so. Where the confusion lies is many of those acid bearing plants are edible if dried in summer heat over several years. Long-term heat destroys the oxalic acid in them. But unless you have a few years, avoid them.

The very best way to get that family of edible in your yard is to buy some roots from the grocery store.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 3:07PM
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hemnancy(z8 PNW)

Chinese grocery stores are a good source of edible taro roots. I tried to grow some but without success. I probably didn't have the right conditions or soil.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 7:06AM
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I've grown them, but they take a long time and take up a lot of space, which I really don't have for what one gets out of them. Now, if I had a ten acre garden, that would be different.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 8:51PM
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It's good advice to stick to the grocery stores for the roots... I bought a taro root from the grocery store, and planted it in a mix of half sandy soil (from Bladen County, NC) and half fine (sifted) potting soil. Leaves sprouted within a week. The plant is in a pot in a warm sunny window in my classroom (about 80F, facing Southeast). It's been extremely easy to care for!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 9:50AM
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I live in Hawaiii. I've been here for seven years I learned early on about the caleum oxilate crystals the hard way I took a small bit of leaf and bit it.. i thought I was goung to die. It felt like I had swallowed fiberglass. Not recommended raw.

That said, the leaf can be eaten and is best pressure cooked to destroy the crystals. When done it has the consistancy of cooked spinach.

The leaves are prolific, so it is a good renewable leafy green crop.

Elephant ear corm, or as it is called here, Ope, is eaten in the South Pacific, but is really considered a famine food, eat it (cooked thoroughly!) if you have to, but otherwise Taro is the preferred choice.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2007 at 5:47AM
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To make poi you pretty much peel and cut the taro corm into small pieces( Corm is the root, for those of you who don't know). Then you steam it. This is important, people boil it, it turns in to a soggy mess. Steaming is when you put a tray above the water in a pot and put the food on it instead of putting it in the water. Then you put on a lid and boil the water for 30min. Then you cool it to room tempature. Next you put it in a food processer with water( If you in nature use a pedestal and smash it with water for 15min or until it seems consistent). Some people put salt or sugar in it if they are eating it plain. You can eat it with many things. I have made this in nature and at home with only taro leaves i find and water. This is the True Hawaiian process.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 9:15PM
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