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From Our Freshologists: Pondering Poi

I love libraries. Sometimes I go in looking for that specific book that I’ve been itching to read. But sometimes I go in just to browse. I’ll roam the stacks looking for a book with an interesting cover or title. Or sometimes something that specifically doesn’t look interesting, because you know what they say about not judging a book by its cover. The book I’m reading now, however, I checked out because the title seemed especially interesting: Unfamiliar Fishes.

Turns out, it’s about Hawaii. And us Americans, we’re the unfamiliar fishes that flopped onto the Hawaiian shore more than 200 years ago. But what made me go “huh” aloud was when I got to the section about taro root. I’d passed by the taro root here at FRESH several times. Thought to myself, “what an ugly little thing.” But this book didn’t seem to think the taro was an ugly little thing at all. In fact, it thought it was a thing to be revered.

And in Hawaii, it is revered.

According to Hawaiian folk lore, the Earth Mother and Sky Father gave birth to the taro root. Next, they gave birth to man. The taro root is our older brother and was meant to look after us like any older brother would. Isn’t that nice? It became integrated into the lives of Hawaiians like no other food source and helped sustain them through hard times.

In Hawaii, they mostly make taro into something called poi, a starchy side dish that some eat with salt, some with sugar, and others just plain. It’s an island substitute for mashed potatoes or rice. (If you’ve ever gone to a luau in the islands, you probably tried poi there, alongside the lomilomi salmon.)

Taro tastes kinda nutty when cooked but is slightly toxic raw. It’s easy to digest and very nutritious, being high in calcium, potassium, vitamin B, and phosphorus. It’s also low in calories for something so starchy.

They should be stored in a cool, dry place and can be kept for about a week. Be sure to look for a hairy, firm taro with no wrinkling. Those are the keepers!

So now, I’ll use my library browsing technique at FRESH. I’m not just gonnaoogle the obviously exciting dragon fruit and rambutan, but I’m gonna ponder the especially humble.You never know what’s hiding behind that plain exterior.


1 1/2 lbs taro

2 quarts water

Bring water to a boil and add unpeeled taro root. Continue gently boiling for about 40 minutes or until taro comes apart when pierced with a fork. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup water. Peel taro and place in blender. Process until smooth, adding water one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. It should look similar to hummus.

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Posted in: Produce