Taro and Dasheen

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Taro and dasheen are two of many names for tubers of a water-loving plant native to eastern Asia and the Pacific islands, Colocasia esculenta, which is in the arum family (as are calla lilies and philodendrons). Like other arums, taro contains protective crystalline needles of calcium oxalate (40–160 mg per 100 gm), and deposits them near stores of protein-digesting enzymes. The result is an arsenal of something resembling poison-tipped darts: when the tuber is eaten raw, the crystals puncture the skin and then the enzymes eat away at the wound, producing considerable irritation. Cooking overcomes this defensive system by denaturing the enzymes and dissolving the crystals.