Taro, because it is the most widespread common name in English, is the shorthand I will use for all the edible members of the aroid family. The vernacular nomenclature for these tuberous plants that have spread throughout the tropics reflects the difficulty of distinguishing members of one taro species from another. Names vary from place to place, even though regular consumers do not confuse them in kitchen practice. All taros belong to the large family of the Araceae or Aroidae, which take their names from the arum lily of Europe. There are no genera and some 1, 800 species. Edible aroids divide roughly into Xanthosoma spp. (tannia, tanniers, yautía, and malanga) and Colocasia esculenta (eddoes, dasheen, cocoyam, taro).
Dasheen seems to be a contraction of the French, de la Chine, from China. Taro is the name used in Hawaii for the tubers of C. esculenta varieties mashed into a mucous pulp for the indigenous national dish, poi.
All edible aroids must be cooked, so as to defang the acrid crystals of calcium oxalate present in all parts of these plants. Eaten raw, aroids cause pain in contact with the skin and can produce loss of voice. This is why the aroid Dieffenbachia picta is known as dumb cane. The crystals can even be lethal in young children.
© 2007 Raymond Sokolov. All rights reserved.