Soon, savour taro minus the bitter taste

Taro on sale at a tuber fair.

Researchers at National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NITK), Surathkal, have developed a technique to produce ready-to-cook, non-acrid taro, removing a major hurdle in the consumption of tuber varieties.

Colocasia esculenta, popularly known as taro or arbi, is a nutritious tuber vegetable consumed around the world.

“This technique consists of pickling taro slices at room temperature and storing in airtight containers. Once it is processed, it can be stored for at least six months without significant change in quality,” said Dr Prasanna Belur, associate professor in the department of chemical engineering, NITK.

Prasanna, who led the research, handed over the technique to tuber growers in Joida, Uttara Kannada, ahead of the opening of two tuber fairs in Joida and Mysuru.

The fair in Joida kicks off on Wednesday (January 8) as over 40 edible tuber varieties ranging in weight from 6 kg to 100 kg are on display. The annual event which began six winters back has been growing in popularity among farmers, consumers and scientists.

“The idea of exhibiting the diversity came to us when we were feasting on a combination of these starchy roots at a house in Joida taluk. The tuber, which was grown naturally for household use, is now cultivated in about 50 acres and is gradually replacing paddy. There is a steep increase in demand too. Goa is the major market,” says researcher Balachandra Hegde Saimane, who has been documenting the biodiversity of the region for the last 10 years.

“Last year, we sold tubers worth Rs 10 lakh in just two months. The fair helps us develop market linkage. At the fair, we sell tubers worth Rs 2 lakh. With growing awareness about its nutrition, the prices have also increased by 50%,” says Jayanad Derekar, secretary of the Joida Tuber Growers Association.

While forest-dependent communities like the Kunbis, Soligas and the Jenu Kurubas form a majority of the growers, of late, farmers are cultivating some varieties.

The indigenous Kunbi community which has been preserving these hidden treasures of the region will also exhibit a range of tuber-based food items.

Kunbis have been honoured with the Plant Genome Saviour Community Awards for preserving Kunbi mudli, a taro variety unique to this place. Scientists have been exploring the possibilities of this climate-resilient, versatile crop.

“Tubers can reduce our dependence on water-intensive rice and wheat. They have a high demand in the starch industry,” says Dr S Ramanathan, former principal scientist, Central Tuber Crops Research Institute.

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