Xanthosoma sagittifolium, or malanga, is a herbaceous plant with an underground stem from which lateral, horizontal, thickened secondary branches, known as “cormels”. The corms have a rounded dark brown bark, while the flesh is white or yellow, with a waxy consistency. The length of the growing season is 270-330 days; the cormels and leaves develop during the first six months. Harvesting takes place between 10 and 12 months after being planted, depending on the variety: the plant is ready for harvest when the lower leaves turn yellow. Its flavour is earthy with hints of nuttiness.
The name “Malanga” is typical of the Boyaka region of Colombia, but also in parts of Costa Rica. Other names include cocoyam, yautia, tannia, taro and tanier and it mistaken at times for taro (Colocasia Esculenta).
Malanga is a versatile vegetable, and it is easy to grow it in humid environments. Its corms are rich in nutrients such as protein, but especially rich carbohydrates such as starch. It is a source of vitamins C, B and E, malanga is rich in minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, manganese, vitamin C, riboflavin, thiamine, and iron. It also contains large amounts of fibre, which regulates and accelerates the digestive process. Unlike wheat, which is commonly used to make flour for bread, malanga is gluten-free.
It is difficult to find it in local markets. Malanga has been grown for home use by small-scale producers for a long time. It can be prepared and eaten in many ways. Usually used as an accompaniment to main dishes, it can also be used to make flours, creams, purées or crispy chips.
This plant was historically widespread for ornamental use throughout Central and South America. It has never been produced in sufficient quantities to supply local markets, but the current lack of knowledge with regards to how to cook this root further increases the risk that local culinary traditions linked to its use will be lost. Many local development programmes have focused on more widespread cultivars, without representing or encouraging the ancient biodiversity of tropical regions.