What Is Taro and How Do You Use It?

This tropical root vegetable is used for more than just boba tea. 

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taro root on wooden surface
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Taro, one of the world's oldest cultivated crops, is a staple ingredient in many cuisines. You might know it from boba tea, but there's so much more to this starchy root vegetable. Get acquainted with taro and the many ways to enjoy its sweet, nutty flavor.

What Is Taro?

Taro (Colocasia esculenta), also called eddo or dasheen, is a tropical plant native to Southeast Asia that produces a starchy root vegetable with a brown outer skin and a white flesh with purple specks. Although commonly referred to as "taro root," the vegetable is technically not a root but a corm, or underground stem.

Taro leaves and corms are toxic if eaten raw due to high levels of calcium oxalate, but can be safely eaten once cooked.

What Does Taro Taste Like?

Taro has a similar starchy texture to that of a normal white potato, but with a mildly sweet, nutty flavor (similar to that of a sweet potato).

Taro vs. Potatoes

Taro and potatoes can be used interchangeably in most savory dishes, but its sweet flavor lends itself to desserts as well. However, there are a few key differences to know:

  • Appearance: Unlike regular potatoes which tend to have smooth skins in shades of brown, red, and yellow, taro has a brown exterior with a ring pattern resembling tree bark. Taro's flesh can be cream colored like that of a potato or cream with purple flecks.
  • Taste: Taro is similar in flavor to a sweet potato, but lower in moisture, resulting in a crisper result when fried or baked.
  • Origin: The taro plant — sometimes called the "potato of the tropics" — is native to Southeast Asia and staple in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world. The potato plant (Solanum tuberosum) is native to the Americas and a member of the nightshade genus, which also includes tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Where to Buy Taro

You can find taro at some specialty stores including health food stores, Asian markets, and Latin American markets. Look for firm vegetables without soft spots or patches. You can also purchase processed taro powder to make boba tea, smoothies, desserts, and more.

How to Prepare Taro

Keep in mind that raw taro corms and leaves are poisonous. Even touching taro can lead to skin irritation, so it's important to both prep and cook this root veggie with care. We recommend using a pair of gloves when handling raw taro. And be sure not to touch your eyes!

To prepare taro, start by thoroughly scrubbing it and peeling the skin away with a vegetable peeler. Finally, run the peeled taro root under cold water and wipe away any excess dirt. From here, you can slice or chop it for your intended use.

How to Cook Taro

Coconut-Crusted Taro Fries
Pictured: Coconut-Crusted Taro Fries. Little Bites of Beauty

Taro can be cooked pretty much any way you would cook potatoes, including steamed, simmered, mashed, boiled, fried, or baked. Its dense, dry texture makes it particularly suited for high-heat cooking such as frying and roasting. Try using it in place of potatoes to make super crispy potato pancakes, or roast it in the oven for delicious homemade fries or chips.

Taro is a staple all over the world, including in the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, Africa, and Southeast Asia. In India, taro root is often cubed and simmered in curries. A popular Hawaiian dish known as poi is just mashed taro root often served as a side dish for meat. But most people in the United States know taro for boba tea; the vegetable adds its distinct sweetness to the drink.

How to Store Taro

Taro, like potatoes, should be stored in a cool, dry place, such as an unheated basement, root cellar, or cupboard. But unlike potatoes, taro tends to soften quickly, so be sure to use it as soon after purchasing as possible.

Taro Recipes

Get started with these favorite taro recipes.

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