What is Taro Root and What Does it Taste Like?

As one of the world’s oldest foods, understanding what taro root is and why you should include it in your kitchen will bring you into a shared food culture. Discover its origin, the varieties, and how it’s eaten across the world.

Trimming the ends of taro root

Root veggies have always been something I enjoy cooking with. From the common potato and parsnip to the ancient cultivars like yuca, they bring versatility, subtle flavor, and often, a lot of world culture into my home.

Today I’m sharing everything a home cook needs to know about taro root, and why I think it’s worth trying. Some of you may be familiar with this vegetable if you are into Taiwanese bubble or boba tea because “taro” is one of the most popular flavors out there. Lately bubble tea is on peak of its popularity both in Europe and the United States.

Unfortunately, not every taro bubble tea is made with real taro. You have to check it when buying the drink. Some of them use taro powder for the distinctive purple color. But this way you barely get any of that distinctive nutty flavor at all. In this article we talk about the real taro root, its flavor, and what you can do with it.

While the shaggy, brown, unassuming appearance may not inspire you at first glance, I promise it’s a food you’ll love to learn about.

What is Taro Root?

Before we get much further let’s address the basics. Taro is a tuber, or a root, that’s been used as a food source for much of human history. It’s believed to have originated somewhere in India or Burma, and has been an important staple in diets for hundreds and hundreds of years. It can actually be tracked as far back as ancient Rome and Greece.

As with many foods, it traveled through countries and continents with explorers and is now eaten by cultures across the globe. It’s often found in tropical and subtropical places like most of Asia and Hawaii.

Whole fresh taro root

Taro Varieties

There are two main types that we worry about in the kitchen, the large variety known as dasheen, and the smaller one called eddo. In the United States, you’ll likely find both simply called taro.

Aside from size, they appear the same, both firm and covered in fuzzy brown, ringed skin, and shaped very similarly to a potato. The larger ones can grow up to 8” long, while the smaller ones may be no bigger than a tennis ball.

Inside they can vary in color, from a creamy white flesh to purple or pink, and even sometimes spotted.

White taro flesh with specks of purple

What Does Taro Taste Like?

Taro is a high starch and high calorie, filling food. As a root vegetable, you can maybe guess that its flavors are subtler than say a tropical fruit. But subtle doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious!

Taro is usually called the “potato of the tropics” but is sweeter than its Western cousin. The taste could be described as nutty and sweet. It actually resembles sweet potatoes in terms of flavor. For that reason taro root is used both in sweet and savory recipes. It is also good at absorbing other flavors.

When cooked the texture of taro is soft, yet firm and dry at the same time.

Health Benefits

Taro is a great source of dietary fiber. It contains twice as much fiber as potato. The root also contains iron, phosphorus, potassium, Vitamins C and B, and is easy to digest. It’s a great ingredient for people on gluten free diets.

Where to Buy Taro Root

Taro is abundant in much of the world, but less well known in places like the United States. That doesn’t mean you can’t find it though!

Many grocery stores actually sell taro if you look for it, but you can find it at specialty markets like Asian or Latin American grocery stores too.

How to Eat Taro

One of the reasons taro has survived as such an important food staple for so long is that it’s incredibly versatile. There are so many amazing taro recipes out there!

It’s important to know that it’s never eaten raw, however. It contains an acidic component that can irritate the throat, so it must be completely peeled and cooked before consuming. That same compound can even irritate sensitive skin, so wearing gloves or coating your hands with vinegar is a good idea to prevent any irritation while handling it raw.

Taro cut in half and placed on the cutting board

That being said, I strongly encourage you to learn how to cook it and give a few recipes a try. You’ll be able to find tons of inspiration, because it’s used in both sweet and savory ways all across the world (yes, even desserts!). From traditional Hawaiian poi to Taiwanese taro milk tea and sweet taro balls, you can immerse yourself and your family in world cultures without leaving home.

Peeled taro root before cooking

But it doesn’t stop there. Experimenting is half the fun, and I think you’ll discover that it’s a versatile root that can be used in stews, fritters, mashes, and much, much more. Taro fries and taro soup are just a few of my favorites, and I’m positive I’ll find more ways to love it as I continue to cook with it!

Baked taro fries overhead shot

Now that you’re equipped with all this knowledge about what taro root actually is, I hope you’re encouraged to go out there and find it. It can be used in such an amazing range of recipes, and can help you connect with amazing, new food traditions from all over the world.

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