“Kalo is our oldest brother. An ancient ancestor.” I remember hearing this from my favorite professor at the University of Hawaii, Maui Campus. Kalo. Taro. Poi- that sticky purple stuff you feel obligated to scoop on your plate at every luau. From that day, my appreciation and love of taro began and I came to realize what a sacred and special plant this indeed was. Legend has it that Hāloanakalaukapalili was the still born son of Wākea, Sky Father and the daughter of Mother Earth, Ho‘ohōkūlani. He was buried and Ho‘ohōkūlani’s tears watered his grave. From his burial site miraculously grew Kalo or the taro plant. Wākea and Ho‘ohōkūlani, went on to have another child, Hāloa. From Hāloanakalaukapalili’s brother, Hāloa, the Hawaiian race descended and every native Hawaiian’s lineage traces back to Hāloa and his older brother, the Kalo plant. Kalo is the sacred ancestor.
As well, Kalo created and fueled a nation. It was because of the nutrient dense and easily transportable Kalo that the Hawaiian Islands could be settled by Polynesian voyagers who traveled over a month crossing roughly 2000 miles of ocean in their outrigger canoes. Because it is ancestor and because of its cultural significance, Colocasia esculenta, as Kalo is scientifically known, is a sacred and important food on the Hawaiian Islands. Kalo is the Hawaiian name for taro. It is said to be one of the earliest cultivated plants in history and is a perfect food. Medicinally, it is still used topically to treat insect bites, sea urchin stings and infected wounds.
In ancient times, it was the primary staple of the Hawaiian diet, due to its availability and its high nutritional content. It is packed with Vitamins A, E and C, as well as anti-oxidants. It has trace minerals, such as iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, copper and phosphorus. In addition, it has a high fiber content and is very easy to digest. Babies who are allergic to milk, can be fed diluted poi as a suitable replacement. It is still a traditional Hawaiian staple that is found in many local Hawaiian foods, other than poi and some preparations are absolutely delicious. There is an old Hawaiian proverb that says, “There is no meat that doesn’t taste good with poi” and although it has a somewhat bland taste, I have grown accustomed to it. I appreciate how sacred it is and the dense nutrients that it provides.
Taro is a tuber, and is somewhat like a purple sweet potato. Every part of the plant has a use. Its stems are used to flavor stews. Its leaves are used to wrap lau lau, a traditional Hawaiian food of steamed chicken, fish or kalua pork. Its roots can be pounded into poi as well as prepared other tasty ways. One of my favorite preparations uses the roots of the plant, or “corms” to make the best chips ever. I also like when it is steamed in coconut milk. But my absolute favorite, it the taro burger at Moku Roots in Lahaina. That is one of the things that I miss most about Hawaii. Although I cannot find a taro burger in Santa Cruz, sometimes I can find fairly decent taro chips. One bite takes me back to an island surrounded by a warm turquoise sea with watery taro fields covered in giant heart shaped leaves. An island whose culture and aloha have infused themselves into my life.
Author: Rane Vigil