If you have been to the West Indies, or Florida for that matter, you may have encountered something called dasheen. You probably have already heard of dasheen, just with a different name: taro. Read on for additional interesting dasheen plant info, including what is dasheen good for and how to grow dasheen.
Dasheen Plant Info
Dasheen (Colocasia esculenta), as mentioned, is a type of taro. Taro plants fall into two main camps. The wetland taros, which you may have encountered on a trip to Hawaii in the form of Polynesian poi, and the upland taros, or dasheens, which produce a multitude of eddos (another name for taro) that are used like potatoes and an edible mammy.
Growing dasheen plants are often called “elephant ears” due to the shape and size of the plant leaves. Dasheen is a wetland, herbaceous perennial with huge heart-shaped leaves, 2-3 feet (60 to 90 cm.) long and 1-2 feet (30 to 60 cm.) across on 3-foot (90 cm.) long petioles that radiate out from an upright tuberous rootstock or corm. Its petioles are thick and meaty.
The corm, or mammy, is roughly ridged and weighs around 1-2 pounds (0.45-0.9 kg.) but sometimes as much as eight pounds (3.6 kg.)! Smaller tubers are produced off the sides of the main corm and are called eddos. Skin of dasheen is brown and the interior flesh is white to pink.
So what is dasheen good for?
Uses of Dasheen
Taro has been cultivated for more than 6,000 years. In China, Japan and the West Indies, taro is widely cultivated as an important food crop. As an edible, dasheen is grown for its corms and the lateral tubers or eddos. The corms and tubers are used just as you would a potato. They can be roasted, fried, boiled, and sliced, mashed or grated.
The mature leaves can be eaten as well, but they need to be cooked in a specific manner to remove the oxalic acid they contain. Young leaves are often used, and cooked much like spinach.
Sometimes when growing dasheen, the corms are forced in darkened conditions to produce blanched tender shoots that taste akin to mushrooms. Callaloo (calalou) is a Caribbean dish varying slightly from island to island, but often featuring dasheen leaves and made famous by Bill Cosby on his sitcom. Poi is made from fermented taro starch garnered from wetland taro.
How to Grow Dasheen
Another use of dasheen is as an attractive specimen for the landscape. Dasheen can be grown in USDA zones 8-11 and should be planted as soon as all danger of frost has passed. It grows through the summer and matures in October and November, at which time the tubers can be dug up.
Dasheen tubers are planted whole at a depth of 3 inches (7.5 cm.) and spaced 2 feet (60 cm.) apart in 4 foot (1.2 m.) rows for cultivation. Fertilize with garden fertilizer or work in a good amount of compost into the soil. Taro also does well as a container plant and along or even in water features. Taro grows best in slightly acidic, moist to wet soil in shade to part shade.
The plant is a rapid grower and will spread vegetatively if left unchecked. In other words, it can become a pest, so consider carefully where you wish to plant it.
Taro is native to swampy areas of tropical southeastern Asia and, as such, likes wet “feet.” That said, during its dormant period, keep the tubers dry, if possible.
Colocasia Species, Elephant Ear, Taro, Dasheen, Kalo, Cocoyam, Kachhu, Eddoe
|Family:||Araceae (a-RAY-see-ee) (Info)|
|Genus:||Colocasia (kol-oh-KAY-see-uh) (Info)|
|Species:||esculenta (es-kew-LEN-tuh) (Info)|
Tropicals and Tender Perennials
Requires consistently moist soil do not let dry out between waterings
Very high moisture needs suitable for bogs and water gardens
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Where to Grow:
Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested
Soil pH requirements:
By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Fountain Valley, California
Pensacola, Florida(2 reports)
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Prosperity, South Carolina
Summerville, South Carolina
On Mar 3, 2016, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:
This species has naturalized from Texas to North Carolina. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council has listed this as a Category 1 species, one with demonstrated damage to wild habitat.
Cultivars that are well-behaved in the garden may have offspring that are not at all well-behaved in the wild, when their seeds are spread by animals.
On Apr 17, 2015, poeciliopsis from Phoenix, AZ wrote:
Central Phoenix -- I have elephant ears that has been growing outdoors in a pot since 2008. I don't give it winter protection, although I has overhead citrus cover and is next to the pool (my plants next to the pool tend not to freeze as readily due to the mediating effect of water). The pot is only medium-size, so the plant doesn't get very large, but it is healthy. It is in strong shade all year and I keep it wet, but not soaked.
On May 20, 2014, 1m2c from Chapin, SC (Zone 8b) wrote:
I bought a large (almost hard ball baseball size) tuber and potted it in a large pot in Mid April (I'm in zone 8). Since that time we have had a lot of cool weather and some night time temps into the low 40's. Four weeks later nothing was happening so I dug it up. Although overall it still feels firm the outer layer in some places was very mushy. I have washed it off and dusted it w/ Rootone and am letting it dry. Now that it's warmer out can I repot it and expect it to sprout? If not can I plant another tuber or plant in that same soil?
On Sep 3, 2013, keithp2012 from West Babylon, NY (Zone 7a) wrote:
I saved a Taro Root from local supermarket and after careful care got it to grow into a beautiful plant, I take the root in when it gets cold and plant it months after frost danger has passed. Less than $1.00 for it when bulbs at garden store cost over $5.00
On Aug 30, 2012, Mike_W from Sterling, MA wrote:
I've been growing these for a few years here in zone 6 MA. However, if you want them to come back year after year, location is key. The elephant ears on the south side of my house grow very well as it is a zone 8 or better microclimate. They grow like weeds along the foundation of the house.
A few years prior, I had tried growing some along the stone wall in the northwest corner of the yard. in a low spot that usually floods in winter and spring. Needless to say, they didn't come back the next year.
So bearing that in mind, I plan on planting a few more in my back yard's microclimate as they can go through winter in the ground without any problems there. My family and friends absolutely love them and so do I. For best results, I usually water them every oth. read more er day and fertilize every 3 weeks or so during the growing season to make sure they get nice and large.
On Dec 16, 2010, oldaggie98 from Magnolia, TX wrote:
While the species can be aggressive an invasive at times keep in mind this is just the species. If you want clumping varieties that do not take over a space look into the new breeding work from John Cho out of Hawaii. His plants are in the Royal Hawaiian Colocasia program and include cultivars 'Diamond Head', 'Blue Hawaii', 'Hilo Bay', 'Pineapple Princess', 'Hawaiian Eye' and 'Kona Coffee' . I am sure there are other cultivars that can be considered clumpers but these are the only I have experience with so far. Does anyone else have experience with non-invasive varieties?
On Dec 1, 2010, crooker64 from Richmond, VA wrote:
In my garden in Richmond, Virginia, Colocasia esculenta illustris and (last season for the first time) Colocasia esculenta jet black wonder have grown well in partial shade. Though I've never had any of them flower (not fertilizing enough?). The former has overwintered many times w/o problem but last spring, after a hard winter here, the plants didn't reappear. So this year I'm digging them up, just to be safe, which I did many years ago with success (drying out and storing in peat moss). I've read many online posts about how they demand constant watering, but that hasn't been the case in my experience it can get very hot and dry here, from time to time (we had a pretty bad drought last summer after a wet spring), and the plants have lived through it with some normal watering (and someti. read more mes not).
On Apr 5, 2010, stella from Raleigh, NC (Zone 7a) wrote:
I grow Colocasia in my North Carolina Garden and they do great in the heat of the summer. I never dig the bulbs in the winter and they come back just fine. Over time I have collected several cultivars. green-leaved, black-leaved, etc. and they all do well.
On Jun 4, 2009, StellysPapa from Dothan, AL (Zone 8a) wrote:
I really like the tropical look, and these elephant ears are one of the few tropical plants that grow and flourish without problems in my zone. Yes, they do multiply rapidly, but that is not a problem for me. If they start to creep out of their bed, I simply dig up the bulbs and move them or give them to a friend.
I would not get rid of them for anything.
On Dec 28, 2007, trinichef from Piarco,
Trinidad and Tobago wrote:
These plants thrive in wet marshy conditions with running water or adequate drainage. The young leaves can be boiled and eaten and is an excellent source of iodine the root( tuber) when mature is eaten.
In Trinidad & Tobago there are several vareities and most are wild but of the domesticated vareity the young leaves are harvested all year round and the root (tuber ) in the dry months of february to may.
To propagate the roots and to grow new plants you simply cut the root up and replant the pieces in soft moist loamy soil with adequate drainage. On close examination of the tuber you will notice little "eyelets" growing outwards from the root these are good places to start the cutting of the root.
To eat the root simply boil water, peel the roo. read more t and cut it into smaller pieces and drop them into the boiling water with some salt. When its cooked it turns blue and is very soft.
It can be served boiled or boiled and fried in butter and is very delicious.
To cook the young leaves simply cut them up add a bit of lime and boil them in a little water then add salt to taste. You can also blend them up after they have been boiled to get a thick soup.
ok thats my contribution thanks for reading.
On May 7, 2007, mike_freck from Lincoln,
United Kingdom (Zone 8b) wrote:
I Purchased this plant from Crug farm plants in Wales uk, spring 2007.
So far ever time it grows a new leaf another one dies. It has been hard work!
Its a small plant so at the moment looks the same as most other Alocasia.
April 2008..its growing stronger now and has overwintered ok in my House. I will move him into the greenhouse in may and the into the garden for the summer.
Has produced so many runners that snap off and then you plant them which ever way up you like they still seem to grow.
On Dec 19, 2006, frostweed from Josephine, Arlington, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:
Elephant Ear, Taro, Dasheen, Eddo Colocasia esculenta is naturalized in Texas and other States and is considered an invasive plant in Texas.
On May 12, 2006, yardjunkie from Hartselle, AL wrote:
They are beautiful but worse than a weed. I planted these the year before last ( 2004) and they spread like wildfire by the second year and now I'm trying to get rid of them. KEEP THEM CONTAINED IF YOU WANT THEM! Roundup won't kill them and if a sliver of a root is left in the gound they come back. They spread over 8 feet from the original planting space in 2 years and are even coming up in the middle of my pampas grass. Planter beware!
On Apr 28, 2006, Rootworker from Covington, GA (Zone 7b) wrote:
I planted my Elephant ear last year and it was BEAUTIFUL, even took some baby plants and put them in pots. However this year (April), I was expecting to see them again but it looks as if its not coming back.
On Jun 24, 2005, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:
I am an artist (oil painter) and this plant has become one of my favorite subjects for paintings. It has a great interplay of lights and shadows and lines with the very pronounced veins in its leaves. I grow them extensively in my yard. The largest of them now towers at about 9 ft high with a trunk about 1 ft in diameter and leaves that easily reach 3 - 4 ft long. They all die back with our winter freezes, but recover in the Spring and just keep on growing. They are hard to beat if you are looking for a "dramatic" plant of great proportions.
I'm adding these plants to my trade list as I'm now getting lots of new plants from the runners the large plants make. Contact me if you want some. I also have the "Illustris" variety to share.
On Jun 13, 2005, Moonglow from Corte Madera, CA wrote:
I've always wanted to grow taro in my own yard. It sure reminds me of the Philippines where I spent many years as a child. We've used it as "umbrellas" when caught in the rain. The tubers make yummy treats. The wilted leaves best sauteed in garlic and onions then simmered in coconut cream.
On May 2, 2005, ladyannne from Merced, CA (Zone 9a) wrote:
If you keep this potted and move it to a protected area for the winter, little damage is done. Even left in the ground, it will come back faithfully every spring. I am looking for other appropriate plants to grow around it in order to keep the 36" plus leaves upright, not an easy thing to do sometimes. A 24" pot will hold one plant for about five years before division is mandatory.
On Oct 28, 2004, winter_unfazed from Rural Webster County, MO (Zone 6a) wrote:
The positive is for growing, not eating. I remember this plant from living in the Caribbean. I know that people say everything tastes better when you're hungry, but the hungrier I got, the more nauseating dasheen tasted. It stinks and turns purple in the pot. It has huge leaves used by locals to wrap things, and grows well near riverbanks.
On Sep 28, 2004, BUFFY690 from Prosperity, SC (Zone 7b) wrote:
I had the same bulb planted in a different place near my pond last year and they were nice but I moved them in the spring and split it up and shared with a neighbor the piece I kept got tremendous and is blooming 9-28-04, I didn't know they bloomed so much, there have been 5 so far and it looks like they are still coming, the blooms are nearly 2 feet long, it bloomed last year but this plant did not reach it potential. I am getting ready to mulch things in for the year, in a couple of weeks it is predicted we will have our first frost around oct 10. So I better get cracking.
I love these plants so easy to grow and tropical looking.
I dug and seperated the small one off the main roots, My plant had 25 little baby bulbs under it.
On Jun 16, 2004, Larabee from Houston, TX wrote:
This plant can be successfully divided, but expect a few “ears” to die when you do so. Don’t give up on it and assume the whole plant is dying when this happens! Keep it in shade until it begins to recover. Once it is making new leaves and the old leaves have stopped dying, put it in a sunny spot and give it lots of water (don’t worry about over watering this plant, because its natural habitat is in swampy areas) and it will absolutely thrive, making lots of beautiful new “ear” leaves.
On Jun 2, 2004, WendyBiologist from Austin, TX wrote:
While a beautiful addition to any pond or water garden, ANY cultivation should be carefully considered and CONTAINED (never planted "out"). Native alternatives to this showy, attractive plant (Colocasia) should be considered. This plant is highly agressive and an invader in many of our central Texas springfed waterways. It escapes cultivation easily, disrupts native plant communities (and species dependent on them), and is not readily reversible.
On May 11, 2004, foodiesleuth from Honomu, HI (Zone 11) wrote:
Living on the Big Island of Hawaii I am quite familiar with Taro and having been born in Cuba, I was also quite familiar with Malanga.
I'm a haole that learned to like poi. As with everything, it depends on how its made. I cannot stand the thin, watery gruel you get served at tourist oriented luau. One of our neighbors makes wonderful thick poi. I also use the poi as a component in other recipes. Poi is best when eaten with other foods as a side dish. It helps cut the grease when eating rich and fatty kalua pig.
Used for centuries to feed both the young and the elderly in old Hawaii due to the healthy properties. Beneficial as a stomach soother and aid to digestion.
Can be peeled and sliced, boiled and seasoned with salt and pepper a. read more nd a bit of butter, or even mashed, just as you would potatoes.
On Sep 2, 2003, suncatcheracres from Old Town, FL wrote:
I was recently given some "taro" by a fellow member of our Koi and Watergarden Club--he had weeded out some that was overgrowing one of his ponds. I was intrigued, as I lived in Maui, Hawaii, for about a year and often admired the taro growing there in sunken, watery fields, surrounded by tropical looking banana plants and palm trees waving in the Hawaiian breeze. So I took one of his small plants, with a fleshy, tan-to-cream colored tuber with some long roots, and dutifully planted it into a three gallon pot, as I hadn't decided quite yet where to plant it in the ground here in my garden in Northcentral Florida, zone 8b.
In the past I have grown a lot of Alocasia macrorrhiza, a large "Elephant Ear" that is sold everywhere in the South in the Spring--in garden centers, W. read more almart, Home Depot, even grocery stores--usually in large bins or baskets for fifty cents or a dollar or so apiece. These tubers are often quite huge--four to six inches across, or larger, and brown, with hard ridges. My Mother, who was raised in South Louisiana, told me that the larger the tuber, the older the plant, and the larger the "ears" will be when they emerge. Over time they form huge clumps of large elephant ears--I've seen some old ones in the Tampa Bay area over ten feet tall.
Well, my "taro," in a little more than a month, has grown long, snake like roots, which first encircled the pot, and then came out of the pot, onto the ground. Also, despite being watered every day, and our frequent August deluges of rain, some of the leaves have turned yellow and died.
So now I think my new pot of "taro" is going to become a raffle item at our next Club meeting, as it looks as if it could become a "monster," gobbling up precious growing space in my sunny garden--I have a lot of shade under huge oak trees. And next Spring I will be on the lookout for my old reliable friend, Alocasia macrorrhiza, or the Giant Alocasia, which knows how to stay in its place. Oh, and by the way, I tasted poi in Maui once, and all I can say is "Ugh!" I guess it must be an acquired taste.
September 6, 2003: I've changed my mind about giving away this plant as I have just read that it contains hyaluronic acid, or HA, a substance found in starchy, deep rooted plants like sweet potatoes and highly colored regular potatoes, especially the Japanese varieties. HA is a natural component of the human body that acts as a lubricant and is used in medicine by injection to treat eye problems, joint pain and sports injuries, and quite a lot of other problems too. But it is best used by the body from food--apparently the tough fibers of these plants protect the vital nutrients and vitamins during cooking, making these types of plants super nutritious--so I think I will dig a small, shallow bed just for this plant, and meanwhile research for a better recipe than poi, which I don't think I could ever really eat on a regular basis.
On Sep 2, 2003, Toxicodendron from Piedmont, MO (Zone 6a) wrote:
I have grown these tubers for many years here in Missouri, digging them up for the winter. This is the first time they have bloomed for me, and they have produced multiple blooms on the same plants. Must be the prolonged hot nights we have had in August (above 70 degrees most of the time). Too bad I had to be out of town when the flower spathes opened maybe I will get another picture before summer ends. I always add some composted cow manure and water copiously to get the biggest leaves.
My Grandfather received 10 lbs. from the Agriculture Dept. in 1913. I am still growing them from the same start. The Grand Kids love them perboiled, sliced and fried as french fries. I live in south Louisiana and they do real well in this climate.
Great outdoors. I have used in areas that are sprinklered every day but not in naturally moist areas.
To solve the hardiness problem I planted in pots in the ground. In late October I lifted the pots and put them in an indoor area which has large picture windows. THe new leaves are not as large, but still very nice. In the spring I'll reset them outdoors and see if they again do well.
Also it's a great plant for children. A bulb is easy for a child to plant and the plant soon ends up larger than they and my granddaughter loves to show everyone how HER elephant ear is doing.
On Oct 9, 2002, Michaelp from Piney Flats, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:
Edible Taro's-like Colocasia esculenta- [NOT ELEPHANT EAR]Grow like other Taro/better eating than Irish Potato [I think]/all parts of this plant should be cooked before eating, to destroy toxin. This is a nice looking plant.-NOTE -Elephant Ear is not edible-the eating of the leaves has caused death in children.The roots contain much more toxin than food types of Taro,too much to be safely removed by cooking.But I have used the leaves as a base for creating aphid spray.
On Aug 26, 2002, lupinelover from Grove City, OH (Zone 6a) wrote:
These are great for playing hide-and-seek with your family. They thrive in heat and moisture, and multiply quickly, but not out of control in the colder northern climates. Superb in containers, also in the soil as long as they are kept moist.
On Mar 12, 2001, Terry from Murfreesboro, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:
A perennial tuber with huge heart-shaped leaves, often planted in or near water gardens. Velvety green leaves provide textured backdrop to other plants, or can be planted as a specimen. Leaves and stems may also be found in colors such as cranberry or dark purplish black, depending on variety.
Plant when danger of frost is past, and soil is sufficiently warm. Or start early in pots indoors, transplanting when night temperatures remain above 55 degrees F.
Should be dug up and stored in protected area in colder climates.
Not recommended for growing in Australia - temperate regions
- Plant small pieces of tuber or suckers, 5-8cm deep. Best planted at soil temperatures between 20°C and 35°C. (Show °F/in)
- Space plants: 80 cm apart
- Harvest in approximately 28 weeks. When the leaves begin to die down. .
- Compatible with (can grow beside): Best in separate bed
N.B. Make sure that you plant EDIBLE Taro, some varieties that are grown as ornamental plants are not edible and can have unpleasant results if eaten. There is some useful information here http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_coes.pdf Taro grows to about 1m (3ft) and has long, green, heart-shaped leaves on long stalks. Taro grows well in warm/hot, humid areas - it needs a long growing time, frost free and lots of water. Keep well watered. Dryness will stop growth. Grow in full sun
Taro is damaged by cold or frosty weather. Lift the tubers and store in a cool dry place .
Culinary hints - cooking and eating Taro
Taro can be cooked like potatoes, boiled, roasted, fried or steamed. It is not eaten raw.
How to Grow Taro
Last Updated: March 29, 2019 References
This article was co-authored by Lauren Kurtz. Lauren Kurtz is a Naturalist and Horticultural Specialist. Lauren has worked for Aurora, Colorado managing the Water-Wise Garden at Aurora Municipal Center for the Water Conservation Department. She earned a BA in Environmental and Sustainability Studies from Western Michigan University in 2014.
There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is a plant with a starchy root similar to a potato, and it’s used in popular dishes around the world, like Hawaiian poi and many dishes in Southeast Asia, where it probably originated.  X Research source In addition, taro is popular as a houseplant thanks to its dramatic leaves, which are shaped like elephant ears. Whether you want to grow it for food or decoration, taro prefers a warm, moist environment and plenty of sun. Taro plants rarely flower and produce seeds, so they are most commonly grown by planting a tuber, also known as a corm.
Dasheen Plant Could Be The Root Of Caribbean Development
Dasheen is among a family of root crops or “ground provisions” grown on the islands of the English-speaking Caribbean, dating back to the early 16 th century. Also known as taro, blue food and kalo, historians say that the crop arrived to the Caribbean aboard Trans-Atlantic slave ships, along with African food culture and agro-ecological knowledge.
Stories are told of African slaves foraging for the large, elephant ear leaves of the dasheen plant to make a stew called callaloo or in cassava fufu, a popular West African staple. Steeped in the trials of a colonial past, dasheen is one of a handful of crops that made their way into diets as a product of resourcefulness and making do with little.
Given its historical roots, the starchy tuber has not traditionally been associated with fine dining. Nor has it typically received any degree of noteworthy acclaim, despite its influence on local culture, and substantive nutritional, environmental and economic value.
But with the advent of more conscious eating patterns, the trendiness of farm to fork dining and an upsurge in demand for authentic culinary experiences and indigenous foods, the tuber has been experiencing a global resurgence.
Callaloo, the national dish of Trinidad & Tobago and Dominica, has become the most common recipe associated with dasheen leaves, and is enjoyed throughout the region and around the world. Introduced to a global audience in the 1980’s, as one of Dr Heathcliff Huxtable’s favourite foods in The Cosby Show, callaloo is thought to be an adaptation of a West African stew called palaver or palaya sauce and is traditionally served with a protein such as crab, salt fish or oxtail.
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Callaloo soup at Cayman Cabana restaurant in the Cayman Islands
Whether at The Gazebo at Jamaica’s Goldeneye Resort in Ocho Rios, where dasheen grows on the property’s 2,500 acre farm, or at Miss Lily's in the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Dubai, where it is stuffed in Escovitch style steamed Sea Bream— no Caribbean restaurant in the Diaspora or at home is complete without dasheen on the menu.
The reason for this is evident in the root’s unique and multifaceted value to the region.
Culinary and Nutritional Value
From sauces, ice creams and liqueurs to pizzas, salads and soups, it is easy to make a variety of food items with the versatile tuber. The corm resembles a potato, which means that it can be fried, steamed, boiled, roasted or mashed and the leaves are reminiscent of spinach and can be boiled or steamed. The root can even be pulverised and converted into flour.
Dasheen has a higher nutritional value than most other roots and tubers and is said to have analgesic, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. The root is high in fibre, and is rich in vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin B6, C, E, potassium and manganese. The leaves are high in Vitamin A and C and both corms and leaves contain high-quality protein and are excellent sources of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and iron.
At The Aquarium restaurant in Grenada, Chef Lavon makes his famous Callaloo Cannelloni by “boiling down” the leaves of the dasheen and creating a juicy callaloo, cream, cheese and steamed coconut filling seasoned with onions, pepper, garlic and ginger which he stuffs inside cannelloni pasta tubes.
Luigi and Christina Moxam, of Cayman Cabana restaurant in the Cayman Islands are advocates of “locavore” or farm to fork culture, and fresh dasheen is one of their favourite ingredients.
Callaloo tortellini at Cayman Cabana restaurant in the Cayman islands
“Callaloo garden rice, callaloo soup, callaloo and feta spanokopita, callaloo tortellini… You name it, it’s either been on our menu or still is,” says Christina Moxam. “We are passionate about sharing the sustainable and eco-conscious benefits of eating fresh local ingredients and with its spinach-like flavour, local availability and high nutritional content, callaloo is one of our favourite foods.”
From the perspective of farmers, dasheen is economically ideal. The crop requires few inputs but offers high rewards. As a high yielding crop, typical harvests of 12 to 14 tonnes per hectare can be expected when rainfall levels are high.
In an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner, a dasheen farmer recently revealed that an investment in 1,000 dasheen suckers would yield 3,000 pounds of dasheen (each sucker will give three pounds) at a market price of over $2,050 USD— a significant sum of money by any standards in Jamaica.
“I am expecting a good profit, push me far ahead,” the farmer said.
Globally, demand for the crop has increased by almost 12 per cent over the past few years, creating extra-regional opportunities for trade. ( Taro Market - Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2020-2025)") In countries such as Dominica, where 1,288 hectares are reserved for dasheen cultivation, with yields of more than 96,000 hg/ha, the crop is a critical export commodity. (FAOSTAT, 2018) In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, dasheen farming is omnipresent across the rural terrain, making it an important strategic commodity.
Dasheen is also a contributor to culinary tourism. Those on the global food festival circuit are likely to be familiar with the Blue Food Festival in Tobago, where patrons revel in a celebration of all-things dasheen. The popular Tobagonian event has taken place annually for more than two decades and was rated by CNN as one of the world’s best food festivals.
Dasheen’s ability to withstand extreme weather and support soil health and circular food culture makes it a beneficial crop for the environment in its cultivation and production the crop has a little to no impact on water, land, forest, air or soil.
Dasheen is a herbaceous perennial that typically takes 7 to 12 months to fully mature. This means that the soil in which the crop grows can remain undisturbed for months before harvesting, which is good for maintaining high levels of soil carbon, promoting soil health and climate change mitigation.
Given that the entire plant, from leaves to roots, can be utilised in cooking, there is minimal post-harvest waste, which means that the plant carries a low carbon footprint and has great value from the perspective of food security.
Dasheen is also a climate resilient plant, with an ability to flourish during heavy floods. There are also varieties of the dasheen plant that are resistant to drought and high salinity soil.
In 2016, concerns surrounding the lack of genetic variety of dasheen in countries such as St. Vincent, Jamaica and Dominica resulted in the introduction of 50 new genotypes of the crop under a project funded by the EU. Continued support of this nature would be critical, in order to boost the biodiversity of the crop in the Caribbean, and enhance its climate resilience.
The Way Forward
Almost 5,000 miles away from the Caribbean, in Hawaii, dasheen or kalo as it is called, is regarded with utmost reverence. Referred to as “the staff of life”, it is used for medicinal purposes with the belief that it has the greatest life force of all foods. Dasheen is revered for its nutritional, environmental, economic and even spiritual properties.
Given its myriad benefits, the Caribbean has also begun to take notice.
In Jamaica, under the leadership of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries' (MICAF) Production Incentive Programme, dasheen has been targeted as a strategic crop for development, with an objective of expanding local hectares under cultivation from 21 to 30.
Under this programme, the island’s 230 dasheen farmers experienced a four per cent increase in production during the 2019-2020 year, and the ministry anticipates a yield of approximately 378 tonnes in 2020-2021.
In October, Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Floyd Green as part of his World Food Day presentation, hosted Chefs Peter Ivey and Patrice Harris-Henry from hunger charity, Mission:FoodPossible, in a cooking demonstration of dishes made with the dasheen plant. The event was followed by a social media campaign created by the charity to elevate the “brand” of what it referred to as an “MVP” or “Most Valuable Produce”.
In a region struggling with a food import bill worth billions of dollars, rapidly increasing non-communicable diseases and limited local food production, it would be advantageous for the countries of the Caribbean to adopt a similar sense of reverence for the dasheen plant as the people of Hawaii.
The gradual mainstreaming of dasheen has been a step in the right direction but governments must place more emphasis on this “blue food” and treat it as the Caribbean’s other blue economy. To make dasheen production and consumption a strategic priority— to raise the brand profile of this loved but tragically underutilised crop— would have significant implications for health, food security, the economy and the environment of the Caribbean region.