Taro (Arasia Colocasia esculenta) is a tropical plant that is common in the Quibdó area, a town in the Chocó department in northwestern Colombia. This product arrived in the Pacific Ocean zone of the country through African slaves who established themselves in the regions, and over the centuries the taro has adapted quite well to the territory and the specific climate of this region. Though in the past it was mainly a product eaten by the working class, taro has since become a staple with huge cultural importance and is appreciated by the community at large.
The stalks can grow to nearly one meter tall and the large leaves reach about 40 cm long and 70 cm wide. The edible root can be either white or pinkish, though if left in the open air it takes on a bluish hue. The thick rind that protects the tuber is dark brown. The variety growing in the area around Quibdó is different from the others, as it lacks the long spines that are found in the varieties growing around Buenaventura, for example, in the Cauca Valley.
Taro is particularly appreciated for its delicate flavor, which can at times be sweet, and for its consistency that gives the impression of melting on the tongue, when it reaches full maturity. This tuber also enjoys excellent nutritional properties and moderate prices. To prepare the taro, first the rind is peeled and the pulp is washed with warm water. The product is then boiled in salted water until it is quite soft. Taro is traditionally used as a side dish for meats, risottos and sauces, or as an ingredient in dishes rich in carbohydrates. This tuber is also often used to prepare sauces, soups and delicate dumplings.
A popular saying goes “taro grows like crazy”, which hints at the ease with which the tuber grows in home gardens and is ready to harvest after four to six months, without much work. Folk culture also holds that taro has medicinal properties, is able to lower cholesterol, can be used as an antioxidant, improve cardiovascular functions, increase metabolism and strengthen the immune system.
A few groups of women in the region have organized to cultivate and conserve this traditional product, an integral part of the community’s collective memory. Taro risks disappearing just the same, because the younger generations, who are used to commercial and ready to eat products, are less and less interested in this traditional tuber, which is quickly disappearing from home gardens.