• Tasha Vazquez

Taro Root: The Story of Haloanaka

Blast from the Past on Taro: Taro, known in Hawaiian as Kalo, is considered by many to be one of the world's oldest cultivated crops. Introduced to native Hawaiians by Polynesians migrating to the islands, taro has very deep cultural and spiritual significance in traditional Hawaiian culture. Taro serves as an ancestor to Hawaiian people, and was envisioned as the link from the natural world to the spiritual world.

In Hawaiian mythology, Wakea ("the sky father") and Goddess Hoʻohokukalani ("the heavenly one who made the stars"), came together to have a child. However, their firstborn was stillborn, and in grief, they buried their child in the ground. The taro root is said to have grown from the burial of their beloved first child and was named Haloanaka, meaning "long stock trembling". When the gods succeeded in creating their second child, named Haloa, the taro root grown from Haloanaka provided sustenance for the growing boy, allowing him to live on, later as the first living ancestor of Hawaiian people. Haloanaka thus serves as both a literal ancestor as well as a spiritual link to the gods.

How Taro is Used:

The plant is traditionally used in it's entirety, from leaf to root! The leaves and stems are cooked as vegetables (be sure to cook them and not eat raw, their high Calcium Oxalate concentrations can be irritating to the mouth and GI system!)

Superfood Facts: Like many root starches and potatoes, the taro root is a "good Starch". So often our wonderful nutrient-rich root vegetables are demonized as "starches", a blanket term that basically means "avoid at all costs" for people looking to lean out or lose weight. While, yes, starches definitely pack a punch in the calorie category compared to other vegetables, as a whole food taro root is no different than other whole foods in that its calorie count is just one-tenth of the complexity of nutritional value and benefits this vegetable possesses. Additionally, it is crazy-diverse in all the ways you can boil it, steam it, bake it, fry it, blend it, to create anything from fries, pies, mashes, smoothies, teas, sweets, or traditional Poi!

Taro is not only a "good starch", it is a resistant starch!

What is a resistant starch? A resistant starch refers to the way the starch is digested...or lack thereof, really. Resistant starches are different from other starches in that the way the carbohydrates are linked together make the starch indigestible, acting very much like fiber. We know fiber is a prebiotic, AKA food for our gut microbes! Food that is not absorbable by our upper GI tract is a party for the microbes in our colon, and serve as a feast for our gut flora to chow down on, in return making special molecules called Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs), which signal for special chemical and hormonal processes to react in our body, resulting ultimately in lowered blood sugar, a sensation of fullness, promoting a healthy gut, and ultimately signaling anti-cancer messages to our gut cells.

Retrogradation: You know when your bread gets hard and "stale"? That's retrogradation! When starches like the ones found in wheat, rice, potatoes, legumes, and taro are cooked, they are heated up to a point called gelatinization, where the carb linkages break down and reorganize in a way that allows previously indigestible starches to be absorbed by our GI system. As the heated starches cool, this is where the magic happens for taro; the carb linkages reconnect, in a different way than they did before, making portions of them indigestible once again as a resistant starch. Here, the starchy vegetable becomes a unique blend of digestible and indigestible starches, serving as food both for us and for our microflora!

Key Health Benefits of Taro:

Taro Promotes Weight Loss: As part of a wholefood diet, this starch vegetable is a true MVP! By virtue of having more resistant starches and thus more indigestible portions than processed starches of similar-calorie portions (white rice, processed cereals, bars, etc.), these foods are not only high in vitamins and some minerals, they also feed the microbes in your gut that create the signaling molecules to keep a low blood sugar. Additionally, the resistant starch content is the "roughage" promotes satiety, and will help you stay fuller, longer.

Helps Protect against Colon Cancer: Butyrate remains to be a critical SCFA used to alter the way genes are expressed in the lining of our GI tract, ultimately signaling healthy cell turnover of the cells in your GI system. Butyrate has time and time again shown to have anti-cancer properties in our GI system by telling the cells of our gut to keep calm and carry on, ultimately maintaining proper cell integrity and shooing away unhealthy gut cells.

Fun Fact: White potatoes have one of the highest content of resistant starches of root vegetables.

My Favorite Taro Foods: Not all of these are healthy, but are great alternatives to the original food counterparts!

Taro Fries: Diverse and nutritious alternative to regular french-fries, especially air-fried with minimal oil!

Poi: Baked and mashed taro root, fermented to have a sweet and tangy flavor.

What do you make with taro?

Work Cited:

Raben, A., Tagliabue, A., Christensen, N. J., Madsen, J., Holst, J. J., & Astrup, J. (n.d.). Resistant starch: the effect on postprandial glycemia, hormonal response, and satiety. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8092089/.

JA;, H. (n.d.). Resistant starch: Metabolic effects and potential health benefits. Journal of AOAC International. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15287677/.

Battling obesity with resistant starch. IFT.org. (n.d.). Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://www.ift.org/news-and-publications/food-technology-magazine/issues/2010/march/features/battling-obesity-with-resistant-starch.

Conlon, M. A., Kerr, C. A., McSweeney, C. S., Dunne, R. A., Shaw, J. M., Kang, S., Bird, A. R., Morell, M. K., Lockett, T. J., Molloy, P. L., Regina, A., Toden, S., Clarke, J. M., & Topping, D. L. (2012). Resistant starches protect against colonic DNA damage and alter microbiota and gene expression in rats fed a western diet. The Journal of Nutrition, 142(5), 832–840. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.111.147660

Hawaiiluaus. (2020, February 21). Elements of a luau – taro i

n Hawaiian culture. Hawaii Luaus™. Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://luaus.org/elements-of-a-luau-taro-in-hawaiian-culture/.

A brief history of Taro in Hawaii ⋆ hawaii ocean project. Hawaii Ocean Project. (2019, March 12). Retrieved October 5, 2021, from https://hawaiioceanproject.com/a-brief-history-of-taro-in-hawaii/.






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