The National Academy of Science regards taro as one of the most underutilized crops of the world. This is surprising news, since we’ve been utilizing it since 23 B.C. It has also been a Hawaiian agricultural tradition for more than a thousand years. Early Hawaiians allegedly ate 15 pounds of poi—a mashed and strained product of taro—on a daily basis.
Taro is an important plant for Ke’anae, where most of the people use the cultivation of the plant as a second income. But harvesting is not easy, due to predation, disease, cost, fluctuation in water source and market demand, and physical labor—most of the work is still done by hand, plant by plant. Perhaps as a consequence, in the past 50 years the 1,000-acre Hawaiian industry has diminished to just around 180 acres, most of which are on the Big Island.
Although it has been a staple of the Polynesian diet for centuries, today we see taro mainly in the form of chips and luau leaves. It’s a starchy tuber, much like rice but richer in iron, calories and Vitamins B and C. And it’s hypoallergenic, which means people who are normally allergic to other starches could possibly eat taro as it’s processed into a white flour.
As for other local sources of taro, check out the grilled taro burger at Stella Blues Cafe, the poi and taro salad at Old Lahaina Luau, the poi with kalua pork at the Feast at Lele, the taro-crusted sea bass at the Sea House Restaurant or the infamous taro pancakes at the 14th annual East Maui Taro Festival, Mar. 31 through Apr. 2 in Hana.
Stella Blues, 1279 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 874-3779; Old Lahaina Luau, 1251 Front St., Lahaina, 667-1998; The Feast at Lele, 505 Front St., Lahaina, 667-5353; Sea House Restaurant, 5900 L. Honoapi’ilani Rd., Napili, 669-1500; East Maui Taro Festival, www.tarofestival.org. (Samantha Campos)