The Fiji Times » Dalo – the potato’s furry cousin

I was recently interviewed for a Taiwanese TV series about the resilience of taro around the world in the 21st century. The interviewer came from a dalo farming family, and she was surprised to learn that Pacific Islanders use the entire plant, not just the tubular root.

When I asked her what the Taiwanese do with the leaf and stem, she replied “we throw it away!” When she was a Chinese child growing up in Australia, she had never heard of eating taro leaves as palusami or the stems as baseise in coconut milk.

Except for Indian dishes, most Asian cuisine rarely uses the leaves. As I explained to the Taiwanese audience, the Pacific Islanders use dalo not only as food but also as medicine for all kinds of ailments.

It was at this point in the interview that I was reminded that even in Dalo, native Pacific Island foods have been instrumental in helping sustain ancient civilizations for thousands of years. In the past, food was also their medicine.

Dalo is not indigenous to Fiji

In 2020, Fiji was the third largest exporter of dalo, behind Ecuador and China, but it is not indigenous to the Pacific Islands. The taro plant actually originated in India and then spread east to Myanmar and China, and was later brought south to Indonesia according to a publication by the South Pacific Community. It was then introduced to Papua New Guinea around 5000 BC. C., then to the rest of Melanesia and Polynesia around 700 AD. C. Its Indian origins help explain why rourou leaves are used in saina, the roll of taro leaves. Taro leaves are extremely popular in India. The ripe leaves are used to make a snack while the young leaves are cooked into a curry in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and the other three southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. This vegetable is especially popular on Indian pooja and wedding menus, as well as being enjoyed on vegetarian days.

canoe trip

When Fiji’s distant ancestors decided to leave their South Asian homelands to discover new lands, they took with them plants that they knew would help them survive even in the harshest environment. Known to Polynesian Hawaiians as “canoe plants,” these carefully selected staple medicinal vegetables, fruits, and roots had sustained their people for thousands of years and would be key to their survival as they ventured into humanity’s final colonization of the land in the southern hemisphere. masses. Among the plants taken were sugar cane, bamboo, coconut, yams, breadfruit, noni, layalaya, yagona and taro, but it was taro that would become an important part of the heritage and history of Pacific Island legends.

health benefits

Like all superfoods, taro leaves have a wide range of health benefits that have long been forgotten. The ancient civilizations that ate the leaves probably didn’t understand why they were so healthy; they only knew that it helped them stay alive. With access to the Internet, we can now learn why superfoods like taro leaves are so beneficial to our health. They are rich in antioxidants; they help boost your immune system and are good for digestion. The leaves are said to naturally lower cholesterol and inflammation and help control blood pressure. They are also good for your eyes. Taro leaves are also high in potassium, a crucial mineral that helps maintain fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. And if the wrinkles of old age worry you, taro leaves are high in an amino acid known as threonine, which appears to support the formation of collagen and elastin, which are crucial for healthy skin.

Tips to reduce itching

Taro has had over 10,000 years to develop a defense against beginning to be eaten, and it works very well. The itching experienced comes in part from microscopic fragments along the leaf, but also from a chemical within the leaf that makes it impossible to eat raw. The tiny needles can be seen when you hold the leaf up to the light and you will see them shine like a bright light, and the larger and older the rourou leaf, the larger the needles. To reduce the chance of itching, rourou leaves should be cooked for at least 45 minutes to dissolve the needles and remove toxins. I was always taught to cook the leaves uncovered as well, as it allows dissolved fragments and chemicals to evaporate into the air as steam. This is another reason why after boiling the rourou in water, many people strain and rinse the cooked leaves again before adding them to the coconut milk. Choosing the young leaves will ensure that the needle-shaped fragments are small, but boiling them for at least 45 minutes will help dissolve them. This critical step in preparing the rourou leaves will ensure you get the health benefits of this ancient superfood, without the sting. Most people have their own way of cooking dalo, its stems and leaves, so today I thought I’d share a few different ways other countries eat this oldest staple crop, from snacks, to side dishes, to desserts. Even in the face of increasing climate change and rising sea levels, dalo remains a resilient staple crop that will continue to sustain Pacific Islanders as both food and medicine.

• Lance Seeto is the chef/owner of Nadi’s first fusion gastropub, Kanu Restaurant.

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