West Indian Arrowroot

Ark of taste
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West Indian arrow-root’s botanical name, Maranta arundinacea, comes from the Caribbean indigenous group arawak, who called it “aru-aru”.
It is distributed and grown in several countries from the Caribbean and Central America.
It is white, articulated, tuberous, placed horizontally in the earth, and it gives origin to several tuberous jointed stoles, covered with scales. Its leaves are alternate, with long, leafy, hairy sheaths, and the flowers are white and small.

This plant was brought during the 19th century by the American Colonel James Walker, from the island of Dominica to Barbados. From thence it was sent to Jamaica. The colonel observed that the native caribbean people, used the roots against the poison of their arrows, by mashing and applying it to the poisoned wounds. The juice of the root has been lauded as an antidote to poisons taken into the stomach, and to the bites and stings of venomous insects and reptiles.
The starch is extracted from the roots by a mechanical process, performed by hand or by machine. The tubers are dug up, washed in water, and then beaten to a pulp in large, deep, wooden mortars. This is thrown into a large tub of clean water and stirred. Then, the fibrous part is wrung out by hand and thrown away. The milky liquor is passed through a sieve, or coarse cloth and allowed to settle. Then, the water is drained off. At the bottom of the vessel is a white mass, which is again mixed with clean water and drained. Lastly, the mass, pure starch, is dried on sheets in the sun.

This highly digestive starch is used to produce very fine pasta or jelly, in pastries, biscuits, and is the preferred method of thickening soups, sauces, ice cream, and gravies. It is valued as an easily digested, nourishing food for convalescents and people who need an agreeable, non-irritating diet, especially for infants or those with an illness.

The arrowroot is now rarely produced among the Barbadian landscape. There are only a few places where it can still be found. One of the reasons why its consumption has progressively declined is the change in food consumption habits of the population, who is now used to eating other types of staple products such as potatoes, rice, and wheat.

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Vegetables and vegetable preserves

Nominated by:Slow Food Barbados - Lani Edghill