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Wednesday, April 25, 2012


          Next stop on our journey around the world land us in the beautiful tropical Island state of Hawaii. The first people to settle Hawaii were Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands just South of the Hawaiian Islands. With them the settlers brought foods like coconut, banana, sugarcane, pigs, sweet potatoes, chickens, and taro. Taro, or Kalo, is native to southeast Asia and is root plant grown for the consumption of its starchy corm. It's scientific name is Colocasia esculenta, meaning edible in Latin. Taro can also be grown as a leaf vegetable and is considered to be a staple in the diets of African, Oceanic, and Asian cultures. Ancient Hawaiians used taro to make clothing, tools, various materials, and as a food source. They would use every part of the plant to make the different items. For example the corm was used for eating, while the stem was pounded to make cloth for clothing. The leaves were used to wrap pig in, creating a traditional Hawaiian Luau dish called Laulau. No part of the plant was wasted once the taro was harvested. Taro grows in paddy fields with lots of water available, it is one of the few crops that can grow in flooded conditions. However, taro can also grow in dry climates. The plant matures ten to fifteen months after initial planting. 
The whole taro plant.
          Culinary dishes that include kalo are poi, taro chips, laulau, and kulolo. Poi is a traditional Hawaiian food that is produced by mashing the cooked corm (baked or steamed) until it is a highly viscous fluid. I decided to make the dessert called kulolo, which is made from taro, coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Ancient Hawaiians thought of taro as the akin of the gods and by eating it they were absorbing some of the powers of the gods. The corm was cooked in an imu for hours, then peeled and pounded with a stone as water was added to bring it to the thick, sticky consistency of po'i. Coconut milk and flakes were added after. WARNING: you must completely cook the taro or the calcium oxalate in the taro will crystallize in your throat, and could cause very serious health problems.
Close up of taro.
Here is the recipe I used for my Kulolo:

  • 4 cups taro root, grated
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 ti leaves
Mix all the ingredients together.
Line a bread baking pan with foil, and then with ti leaves. After pouring in the kulolo, cover the top with ti leaves and foil before baking for 2 hours in 400 degrees. Remove the foil and top layer of ti leaves for the last 30 minutes to allow the kulolo to brown.
The Ingredients!

This is a picture of the grated taro. Now I'm not going to lie to you about using taro, it is super difficult. To prepare my taro I soaked it in cold water over night and part of this morning, changing the water every hour. This gets rid of the sap that is inside of the taro. However make sure to wear gloves whenever you touch the raw taro. I followed this while I peeled the taro, but I forgot to put on gloves while grating the taro, now I have a awful itchy rash on my hands and arms.     So be extra sure that you always protect yourself while handling the taro. Pictured is the 4 cups of grated taro, I just used a cheese grater to grate the taro.

This is all the ingredients combined in a bowl.

TIP: make sure you really mix the other ingredients with the taro, or they will sink to the bottom of the pan and create a sticky mess!

Fact: taro has very sticky itchy sap to deter humans and animals from eating the flesh of the plant. Taro has developed this because it is a ground dwelling plant, which makes it easier for predators to access.

This is how the recipe said I should prepare the pan. There is a layer of foil at the very bottom then a layer of ti leaves, to prevent the kulolo from burning to the foil. I also put a ti leaf and another layer of foil on top of the kulolo to prevent it from burning. I removed that layer 30 prior to taking the kulolo out of the oven. TIP: make sure to put some PAM or non-stick cooking spray on the very bottom of the pan  because I didn't and the foil burned to the bottom, ruining my pan.

This is how the recipe said the finished kulolo should look, mine definitely did not look like this. 
Due to how my kulolo came out, I believe that this recipe make have some glitches. I admit I am not an experienced Hawaiian desert chef, however I would not suggest using this recipe. It was very labor intensive and did not produce a good product. I could be wrong and the failure could be completely due to my own error, but I don't think that is the more plausible answer. But, I have a solution! Here is another recipe for kulolo if you don't want to use the first one:
2 c       of grated taro
¾ c      dark brown sugar
1T       molasses (optional)
½ c      coconut milk
½ c      shredded coconut (fine)
line pan with saran wrap.  Steam for 4 hours.

2 c       cooked taro (mashed in food processor)
3/4c     dark brown sugar
1T       molasses (optional)
½ c      coconut milk, more if too dry
½ c      shredded coconut
Spray pan with PAM.
Cook in pressure cooker  the same way you cook gau.
Kulolo will be soft like pudding when warm. It will harden when put in the fridge.

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