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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eat Your Elephant Ears: Hiding Food in Plain Sight

Elephant ears picture.
Elephant Ears
Central and South Americans use the tubers of elephant ear tubers in various meals. Hawaiians make poi wiht it.The tuber is one of the most popular foods in the country and provides a basic diet for many. The tubers can be harvested and stored for several weeks if refrigerated. Elephant ear is cultivated in many of the Central and South American countries. Taro is native to Africa and was brought as a food crop for slaves. It is also widely eaten in many areas of the Pacific.

STOP: Do not touch until you read the rest. 

Did you know that the Elephant Ear corms in your garden are edible. Much of the world eat thems regularly.  Elephant ears corms are abundant in vitamins and minerals. "Esculentia" in the scientific name means edible. Do not touch without gloves. Do not eat leaves or corm without cooking! Poi is the traditional food made from these in Hawaii.

Name Origin of Colocasia Esculenta:
Elephant ears' species name, esculentia, is the same term that gives us "esculent," meaning edible. Indeed, elephant ears are an important food source around the world, in warm climates (for more, see below).

Elephant Ears and Edible Landscaping -- Taro Root:

For those of us interested in the ornamental value of Colocasia esculenta, the common name, "elephant ears" is apt, since we are impressed with the size of its leaves. But those with a culinary bent think of the plant as "taro" or "coco yam," in which case the focus is usually on its root, or corm.
According to Wilfred Lee ("Ethnobotanical Leaflets," Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, 1999), "Taro constituted the staff of life for the Hawaiians when Captain Cook arrived in the islands in 1778. At that time an estimated three hundred thousand people in the islands lived chiefly on poi (a fermented or unfermented taro paste), sweet potato, fish, seaweed, and a few green vegetables and fruits."
Nonetheless, all parts of elephant ear plants can upset the stomach if ingested without being properly cooked first. The sap, moreover, can be a skin-irritant. From this site.

All the preppers who suggest hiding  a few vegetable in the regular flower or decorative gardens can now plant taro or just eat the ones already existing. This article also has recipes.

One article distinguishes between taro and elephant ears. The same article also indicates corms of both are eaten:

"Central and South Americans use the tubers of elephant ear tubers in various meals. The tuber is one of the most popular foods in the country and provides a basic diet for many. The tubers can be harvested and stored for several weeks if refrigerated. Elephant ear is cultivated in many of the Central and South American countries. Taro is native to Africa and was brought as a food crop for slaves. It is also widely eaten in many areas of the Pacific."

Another article on eating the leaves and roots:

Q: I have question about a plant I picked from a nursery recently. The name of the plant is BLACK MAGIC ELEPHANT’S EAR (Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ ). It is a tropical plant. On the information attached to the plant it says the roots are used as food in Hawaii. My question is whether the leaves are edible. I want to make sure before I use them to make an Indian dish from my homeland.

"A: Cook away! The plant commonly called “Elephant Ear” has been cultivated for thousands of years. The root is pounded into an edible paste called poi and the leaves are used to wrap steamed meats and vegetables.
There are several common and ornamental varieties of elephant ear. The green-leafed form has been grown in the South for centuries. They need hot summer temperatures and plenty of water during dry weather. In our part of Georgia, the roots should be dug up in early October and kept from freezing indoors.
Be careful removing the leaves from an elephant ear plant: the sap contains calcium oxalate crystals that can deliver a mild sting or even a severe rash. Cooking the leaves before ingestion eliminates much of the irritation."

Preppers here is a plant to grow in plain sight, trusting most people in the neighborhood won't know you are planting food in the front yard.  For the rest of you who already have them, eat them if you run out of food! Although some sites say to dig the roots up in the winter and store, planting in the spring, here in N AL, I think heavy mulching and other protection keeps them viable for spring.

Check this information on your own before you eat these leaves or corms!


Your turn
Has anyone eaten their elephant ears or taro? If you have eaten poi, what does it taste like? Do you grown elephant ears?


11 comments:

  1. Poi tastes like putrid purple paste. I would never eat it except in Hawaii, because at least there I could spit it out and still be in a beautiful place. If I tried it at home I'd just have a bad taste in my mouth. Plus it's very high carb, I don't do carbs. I'll be interested to see if there's anyone who actually likes this stuff.

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  2. Jan,
    Thanks for the description. Purple paste? Hmm, on one of the sites I gave, there were 6 or 8 recipes. Will you look at those and see if any of them might look tasty? I try not to eat too many carbs. If I am going to eat carbs, I better love the food! If people got really hungry, elephant ears might start disappearing in yards.

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  3. Many years ago I was served taro at a party. It was prepared by a woman from Puerto Rico (Or was it Cuba?) It was quite bland. Let's just say that I did not have a second helping! However I do occasionally buy taro chips.
    http://www.terrachips.com/our-chips/terra-exotic-vegetable-chips/72822978922 YUMMY!

    I have several Elephant ear plants growing in pots. I had no idea that they were edible!

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  4. Janet,
    Thanks for the information. I will have to look for those chips.

    You can divide the corms to make more plants. See, you have food right in your pots. The leaves are edible, too. Just handle with gloves until they are cooked.

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  5. I wonder if you can make your own taro chips in the dehydrator like you do kale chips. I just googled elephant ears in canada very quickly and see that where I live the tubers need to be dug up every fall and over-wintered inside. It might be fun to have an annual chip making event with some of the tubers since they will be dug up any way.

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  6. Sue,
    I think they would need to be boiled first. But, I see no reason why they cannot be dehydrated. Thanks for the suggestion. Since Jan and others say these are tasteless, I wonder if they could have garlic salt put on them prior to dehydrating. Or, they could be put into soup instead of potatoes. What do you think?

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  7. Wow! We've had elephant ears around the porch for years, ever since a neighbor divided hers, and I had no idea they were edible.

    I've been told they should be dug up and divided every year, but we never have. I just leave them out there, and they die back when it gets cold and grow out again in the spring.

    When I leave here, I may have to dig up a few tubers to take with me and plant wherever I end up!

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  8. Sherry,
    Dig them up and divide some this winter and plant more to keep making more. Cook one and give us a report of your results. There are recipes in the post. Remember, you can cook the leaves too, just handle with gloves until cooked. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. mmpaints,
    Glad you think so! all food plants suit me, but this is one the neighbors won't complain about!

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  10. Please look at this web page and let people know that, at least one type of elephant ear is NOT edible, even when cooked. It is extremely dangerous as l found out by accident!

    http://www.mauijungalow.com/2012/03/taro-vs-elephant-ear-telling-them-apart.html#.U3CUrC-jM9M

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