Caribbean Market: Dasheen (Taro)

By Amber Charles-Alexis, MSPH, RDN

August 9, 2021


Background | Food uses | Nutrition | Benefits | Purchase | Storage



Dasheen is a very popular 'ground provision' (root tuber) here in the Caribbean.


So popular that there is an entire festival dedicated to its versatility and delicate taste.


The internationally-recognized blue food festival is held annually in October (pre-covid) on the beautiful isle of Tobago, and features culinary competitions and cultural shows.


PS: some varieties of dasheen turn blue when cooked, hence the name "blue food", or even "blue steel dasheen". The festival also features other tubers like sweet potato.


Background

Alternate names: Kalo, Taro de chine, Chinese potato, Malanga (1).


Dasheen (Colocasia esculenta) is one of the oldest crops that was very popular in the 'Old World' (2, 3). It provided medicinal, nutritional and economic benefits (2).


Believed to have originated in Asia, the crop was also produced in Africa, Oceania and the Mediterranean (3).


Though the terms are used interchangeably, dasheen is a type of taro - a family of root vegetables that also includes the eddo.


Now grown throughout the West Indies and West and North Africa, the dasheen is adapted to grow in very diverse environments - tropical or temperate, full sun or deep shade, and even in flooded conditions (4).


Caution: dasheen has medium poison severity (calcium oxalate crystals) - all parts of the plant are poisonous unless thoroughly cooked, including the leaves (5).


You may experience a sensation of needles stuck in the throat (personally experienced this), pain and swelling of the mouth, tongue and lips, and vomiting or difficulty swallowing.


These are mild/temporary and not expected to warrant a doctor's visit.


Food uses


Dasheen is a starchy vegetable that is cooked and used much like potato - albeit it is sweeter than potato.


'Provision and fish' is a popular dish here in the Caribbean... but it's nothing without dasheen as the star ground provision in the dish.


Not to mention, split pea soup (traditional Saturday dish) "must" have dasheen.


You can simply boil and slice the dasheen - using it in place of rice or pasta - or you may take a more adventurous route and make a dasheen au gratin or dasheen pie.


Ironically, you can cook the leaves atop the dasheen - dasheen bush - and include in a meal with dasheen, such as dasheen, callaloo and fish!


I've even had a dasheen smoothie while visiting Grenada in 2016.


Nutritional Facts

Dasheen is an excellent source of dietary fiber - with a whopping 6.7 grams per 1 cup of cooked dasheen!


That's equivalent to ~3 cups spaghetti, 5 slices whole grain bread, or 2.5 small potatoes, boiled with the skin on.


It's also high in potassium and provides moderate amounts of phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin C and carbohydrates (6).


This starchy vegetable is bursting with nutrients and offers many health benefits and is a perfect reminder that we don't need to avoid carbs to improve our health.


Health benefits

Dietary fiber

Dietary fiber is the edible parts of plants that is resistant to digestion, and are known to add "roughage" to the diet for healthy bowel movements.


Fiber contains bioactive compounds and is inversely related to type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers (7, 8).


This means that the more fiber you consume, the lower your risk is for developing these conditions.


Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feed the "good bacteria" in your gut and promotes good digestion (8).


Furthermore, a 2020 study in rats showed that taro flour or taro starch increased the diversity of gut bacteria in mice (9).


Dasheen is an excellent source of dietary fiber and great way to boost your fiber intake.


Potential anticancer

A 2021 study showed that taro (dasheen) contains many beneficial compounds with anti-cancer effects (anti-mutation) (10). However, this is a lab-based study and more human research is needed.


Nonetheless, dasheen contains anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-modulating and blood sugar control effects (10).


Additionally, it is naturally gluten-free (hypo-allergenic) and is a moderate-glycemic starchy ('complex carb') and possibly underutilized food in dietary interventions (10).


Dasheen is also a good source of vitamin E - a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects cell membranes from oxidative damage (11).


Heart-friendly potassium

Potassium is an essential mineral shown to reduce blood pressure, reduce the occurrence of kidney stones, and guard against age-related bone loss (12, 13).


Unfortunately, it is a nutrient that most persons do not get enough of - hence it is listed on food nutrient labels to encourage increased intake.


Increasing your dietary intake of potassium is shown to lower your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease (13).


Foods in the taro family, including dasheen, are naturally high in potassium.


However, not everyone needs to increase their potassium intake, for example, someone with advanced kidney disease. Consult your doctor/medical to determine if you should increase your potassium intake.


Purchasing tips

  • Ensure that the surroundings are clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated

  • The dasheen should be clean, firm, dry and free of excess dirt

  • Lightly massage the dasheen, looking for soft spots that indicate spoilage

  • Some persons may request that the vendor cuts the end of the dasheen to observe for any signs that the dasheen "has past" (gone bad), such as black/brown spots.


Storage tips

  • Dasheen can be stored at room temperature, for 10 to 14 days

  • Alternatively, you may peel the skin, chop and freeze for later use

  • If refrigerating, store in a sealed container for 2 to 3 days.

 

The Caribbean Market highlights the nutritional facts and health benefits of fruits and vegetables found in the Caribbean, with the goals of instilling pride and ownership in the diaspora and promoting local eating.


References:

  1. Taro (purdue.edu)

  2. A high-quality genome of taro (Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott), one of the world's oldest crops - PubMed (nih.gov)

  3. Evolutionary origins of taro (Colocasia esculenta) in Southeast Asia (nih.gov)

  4. Colocasia esculenta (taro) (cabi.org)

  5. Colocasia esculenta (Caladium, Dasheen, Elephant Ears, Green Taro, Malanga, Taro) | North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (ncsu.edu)

  6. https://tools.myfooddata.com/nutrition-facts/168486/wt1/1#foodlist

  7. Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health (nih.gov)

  8. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits (nih.gov)

  9. Modulation of Gut Microbiota Profile and Short-Chain Fatty Acids of Rats Fed with Taro Flour or Taro Starch (nih.gov)

  10. Anticancer and Immunomodulatory Benefits of Taro (Colocasia esculenta) Corms, an Underexploited Tuber Crop (nih.gov)

  11. Vitamin E: Regulatory Redox Interactions - PubMed (nih.gov)

  12. Potassium and Health (nih.gov)

  13. Potassium Intake, Bioavailability, Hypertension, and Glucose Control (nih.gov)

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