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A Brief History of Taro in Hawai‘i.

Taro (Colocasia esculenta), has a very long history and is grown in many wet tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Its origins are thought to be in India. From there, its cultivation spread westward to Egypt, where Pliny noted its cultivation as far back as 500 B.C., and also the eastern Mediterranean. Cultivation continued spreading south to Africa and west to the Caribbean and the Americas.

Its eastward journey took it into Burma, and also to China, where records indicate cultivation as far back as 100 B.C. In the Pacific, taro has been grown as far south as New Zealand and was spread across the ocean, being carried by Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian wayfarers.

In early Hawai‘i, taro was a highly-prized food staple and was often used as medicine and in ritual. Hawaiian myth holds that taro was the elder brother of man and therefore had a very sacred role in the culture. The cultivation of kalo was at the very core of Hawaiian culture and identity. Hawaiians have been called "true experimental horticulturalists", developing hundreds of varieties of kalo. It was pulled up, cooked, and mashed almost every day in old Hawai‘i (CTAHR, 2002)

The early Polynesian immigrants to Hawai‘i probably planted taro along streams, beside springs and in semi-marshy areas with a supply of fresh flowing water. Taro lo‘i, or flooded fields, probably were developed much later. Certain taro varieties were cultivated by the “dry-land” method: under mulch in rain-watered land and in wet lower-forest areas.

In present-day Hawai‘i, although taro no longer is the main staple food, it is still consumed in quantity, and in a variety of ways: cooked and mashed corms become poi or kūlolo, a pudding-like dessert flavored with coconut cream; sliced and fried corms become taro chips; and taro flour is made into a variety of baked goods, such as muffins, buns and breads.



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