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Growing and cooking taro by Ray Grogan
Taro varieties

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Pi’i Ali’i .  (PEE - EE   AH – LEE – EE)

 

This one of the oldest taro varieties grown, and was known in the early days of Hawaiian history as one of the royal taros. Commercially it makes a "red" poi (purple, not gray) that is highly prized. The leaf is also very tasty.

 

The best thing about Piialii is the way it cooks in the oven. Most taros tend to be too dry in the mouth to just bake and eat. Piialii bakes up almost as juicy as a good sweet potato. It looks great baked too, sort of purple instead of white. It has a delicious flavor. It is so unusual you can serve it as a pupu or even as a desert.

 

However, Piialii is one of the trickiest to grow. It seems to like colder water for its roots (use a bigger water container and shade it) and sometimes it gets more aphids and scales (grow it on a table so you can keep the ants off). It can look kind of beat up. Since you usually grow it for its corms, it takes about a 9 month growing season, and the last 3 of that it is small and dormant.

 

Piialii is most easily recognized by its leaves, which make a cup. The leaves remind me of an upside down umbrella, sort of crinkled. There are other varieties with cup leaves. Of these, Piialii is the only one with the purple coloration in the roots. The inner skin of the corm is red, and the stem just above the roots is a pretty lilac color once you start peeling the old leaves away. When you cut the stems or corms, a striking blood red liquid oozes out.

 

 

 

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The cleaned corm (from Jim Hayes’ Manoa patch) also shows the coloration. This one was baked. (It did not turn out the juicy purple way – it was like regular taro – fine but a little dry. I don’t know why some do and some don’t.)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Kakakura Kahuku (I don’t know the real variety name. I call it KK for short for now. I think it is bred from a taro from Palau.)

 

This is a relatively new variety, by some pretty akamai guys, and it is doing well in the leaf market. Beautiful picture to right is by my taro cruising buddy Isabella Gioia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here is their fine product. I have been buying it for years at the Manoa Safeway, and always thought it was bun long. (The leaves look quite similar with purple piko.) I like it better than bun long, but that could just reflect the good healthy plants these guys produce.

 

For leaf production this KK variety has the advantage of constantly turning itself over, so you get a nice big leaf. I have just started testing it in my home garden.
 
 
 
 

On to growing for corms

I can’t claim any expertise on varieties. I mostly just took what some guys at UH gave me a long time ago.

 

Bun long is 90% of what I grow. It is also called Chinese taro. All the professional leaf operations I know of use this variety. And all the “taro chips” (like potato chips) use it. Some of the taro cakes and other “dim sum” type dishes are made from it. (The only thing it is not used for is poi.)

 

Starting bun long: In many markets you can buy the corms of this variety. To check, look for the distinctive purple fibers (see the corms page). To start growing it you just plant a corm.

 

 

The purple stemmed one on the right is Kakakura Ula Ula. It is a little more interesting landscape wise, and it is somewhat easier to grow, but overall does not taste as good. (Leaf is OK, corms marginal.) (The thing that makes it easier to grow is the offshoots “jump”. To start new plants you just pick off the little plantlets that are about a foot away from the main plant.) (This variety came to me from a lady named Gloria, out in Waimanalo.)
 

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Here is a pii alii corm as harvested. The cut part shows you the lavender color of the inner skin.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The roots of this variety show why I call it a kakakura, or “jumping” type. At the ends of those rhizomes you can see little keiki starting to form. Also note the corm size is small. And note the growing technique by the owners (professional growers)– weed control matting. They may be also trying to control the jumping – many of the rhizomes get blocked by the matting.
 
 
 

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