Article by Daphne Ewing-Chow for FORBES
Dasheen is amongst a family of root crops or “ground provisions” grown on the islands of the English-speaking Caribbean, dating back to the early sixteenth century. Also referred to as Taro, Blue Food and Kalo, historians say that the crop arrived to the Caribbean aboard Trans-Atlantic slave ships, together with African food culture and agro-ecological knowledge.
Stories are told of African slaves foraging for the massive, elephant ear leaves of the dasheen plant to make a stew called Callaloo or in Cassava Fufu, a well-liked West African staple.
Steeped within the trials of a colonial past, Dasheen is one in every 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 related to wonderful dining. Nor has it typically received any degree of noteworthy acclaim, despite its influence on local culture and substantive dietary, environmental and economic value.
But with the arrival 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 world resurgence.
Callaloo, the national dish of Trinidad & Tobago and Dominica, has turn into probably the most common recipe related to dasheen leaves and is enjoyed throughout the region and around the globe.
Introduced to a world audience within the 1980’s as one in every of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable’s favourite foods in The Cosby Show, Callaloo is considered an adaptation of a West African stew called Palaver or Palaya sauce and is traditionally served with a protein akin to crab, salt fish or oxtail.
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 within the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Dubai, where it’s stuffed in Escovitch style steamed Sea Bream— no Caribbean restaurant within the Diaspora or at house is complete without dasheen on the menu.
The explanation for this is obvious in the foundation’s unique and multifaceted value to the region.
Culinary and Dietary Value
From sauces, ice creams and liqueurs to pizzas, salads and soups, it is straightforward to make a wide range of food items with the versatile tuber. The corm resembles a potato, which implies that it might be fried, steamed, boiled, roasted or mashed and the leaves are harking back to spinach and may be boiled or steamed. The foundation may even be pulverized and converted into flour.
Dasheen has a better dietary value than most other roots and tubers and is alleged to have analgesic, anti-cancer and anti inflammatory properties. The foundation is high in fibre and wealthy in vitamins and minerals akin to Vitamin B6, C, E, potassium and manganese. The leaves are high in Vitamin A and C and each 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 making 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 within the Cayman Islands are advocates of “locavore” or farm-to-fork culture and fresh dasheen is one in every of their favourite ingredients.
“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’re obsessed with sharing the sustainable and eco-conscious advantages of eating fresh local ingredients and with its spinach-like flavour, local availability and high dietary content, callaloo is one in every of our favourite foods.”
From the angle 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 may 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 kilos of dasheen (each sucker will give three kilos) at a market price of over US $2,050 — a major sum of cash by any standards in Jamaica.
“I’m expecting profit, push me far ahead,” the farmer said.
Globally, demand for the crop has increased by almost 12 percent over the past few years, creating extra-regional opportunities for trade. (Taro Market – Growth, Trends, and Forecast (2020-2025)”
In countries akin to Dominica, where 1,288 hectares are reserved for dasheen cultivation, with yields of greater 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 agricultural terrain, making it a crucial strategic commodity.
Dasheen can be a contributor to culinary tourism. Those on the worldwide food festival circuit are more likely to be accustomed to the Blue Food Festival in Tobago, where patrons enjoy a celebration of all-things Dasheen. The favored Tobagonian event has taken place annually for greater than twenty years and was rated by CNN as one in every of the world’s best food festivals.
Dasheen’s ability to resist extreme weather and support soil health and circular food culture makes it a useful crop for the environment; in its cultivation and production the crop has a little bit to no impact on water, land, forest, air, or soil.
Dasheen is an herbaceous perennial that typically takes 7 to 12 months to totally mature. Which means that the soil by which the crop grows can remain undisturbed for months before harvesting, which is nice for maintaining high levels of soil carbon, promoting soil health and climate change mitigation.
On condition that your entire plant, from leaves to roots, may be utilized in cooking, there’s minimal post-harvest waste, which implies that the plant carries a low carbon footprint and has great value from the angle of food security.
Dasheen can be a climate-resilient plant, with a capability to flourish during heavy floods. There are also varieties of the dasheen plant which can be immune to drought and high salinity soil.
In 2016, concerns surrounding the shortage of genetic number of dasheen in countries akin to St. Vincent, Jamaica and Dominica resulted within the introduction of fifty new genotypes of the crop under a project funded by the EU.
Continued support of this nature could be critical, with a purpose to boost the biodiversity of the crop within the Caribbean and enhance its climate resilience.
The Way Forward
Almost 5,000 miles away from the Caribbean, in Hawaii, Dasheen or Kalo because it is named, is regarded with utmost reverence. Known as “The staff of life”, it’s used for medicinal purposes with the assumption that it has the best life force of all foods. Dasheen is revered for its dietary, environmental, economic and even spiritual properties.
Given its myriad advantages, 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 4 percent increase in production in the course of the 2019-2020 12 months and the ministry anticipates a yield of roughly 378 tonnes in 2020-2021.
In October, Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture Floyd Green, as a part of his World Food Day presentation, hosted Chefs Peter Ivey and Patrice Harris-Henry from hunger charity, Mission: Food Possible, 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 raise the “brand” of what it known as an “MVP” or “Most Priceless Produce”.
In a region scuffling with a food import bill price billions of dollars, rapidly increasing non-communicable diseases and limited local food production, it might be advantageous for the countries of the Caribbean to adopt the same sense of reverence for the dasheen plant because the people of Hawaii.
The gradual mainstreaming of dasheen has been a step in the proper direction, but governments must place more emphasis on this “Blue Food” and treat it because the Caribbean’s other Blue Economy.
To make dasheen production and consumption a strategic priority — to boost the brand profile of this loved but tragically underutilized crop — would have significant implications for health, food security, the economy and the environment of the Caribbean region.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daphne Ewing–Chow is an environmental author with a concentrate on food and agriculture and commutes between the Southern Caribbean (Barbados) and the Northern Caribbean (Cayman Islands).