Ark of taste
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Amadumbe is the Zulu name of Colocasia esculenta, known as Taro in other parts of the world. It originated in South East Asia and is now grown as a crop in many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world.
It is has been cultivated in South Africa since early times, and was introduced by Portuguese traders before 1500. It is a robust herb with large heart-shaped “elephant ear” leaves, and cylindrical rhizomes, or corms, that are harvested like potatoes.

It is well suited to the humid sub-tropical coastal climate of KwaZulu-Natal, and they are also easier to grow than the more common commercially grown potatoes, which are more susceptible to blight in moist tropical conditions. It is therefore ideal for subsistence farmers, who cannot afford expensive fungicides.

Amadumbe tubers (corms) have a rich earthy flavour and a starchy flesh which is boiled, roasted or grilled, fried slices, or mashed. They can be enjoyed on their own, or added to a beef stew. The leaves, and sometimes the stems, are eaten as spinach and provide a supplement to maize, in Zulu cuisine.
It was adopted by the Zulu people, as an alternative root crop to yams, and by the Indian community of Kwa-Zulu Natal (which has the largest Indian community outside of India), descendants of indentured labourers that arrived from India in the 1860’s to work on sugar cane farm lands. They adopted amadumbe into their cuisine and one of their best dishes, “Puri-patta”, is made from the large leaves of the Amadumbe. The veins are scraped from the leaves, washed and dried. A batter is made from a mixture of grated onion, tomatoes, tamarind juice, sour milk, pounded jeera, dhunia, garlic and chilli. The batter is spread over each leaf, another leaf placed on top of this, then more batter, alternating each layer until the batter and leaves are finished. The layered leaves are then rolled up tightly, like a swiss roll cake. This roll is then steamed in a pot with water, for about an hour. Then taken out the pot and allowed to cool. The roll is then cut into 3cm thick slices, and fried in hot oil. It is served sandwiched between 2 small pancakes, with condiments such as green grated mango, and mint yoghurt.

The Amadumbe has been a neglected traditional food crop, as people tend towards more westernized, commercial root crops, such as potatoes, which are associated with affluence. Amadumbe are often treated as the poor man’s alternative to potatoes.

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StateSouth Africa


Other info


Vegetables and vegetable preserves

Indigenous community:Zulu
Nominated by:Melissa de Billot