Meet Taro, the Poke Bowl’s Missing Secret Ingredient

When Polynesians first arrived in Hawai'i some 1,500 years ago, they found islands that were lush, beautiful...and nearly devoid of anything to eat. Luckily, those sailors had packed a very special snack for their 2,500-mile voyage: a starchy, carbohydrate-rich root called taro, which ended up becoming as essential to the isolated Pacific archipelago as rice or wheat elsewhere. It was the original partner to cubed fish in Hawai'i's traditional poke bowl—which today has become super popular (minus the taro) around the world. Join us on a tropical adventure as we discover why this revered plant nearly died out on Hawai'i, even as it popped up in chip form at Whole Foods, and what it might take to bring it back.

Episode Notes

Scott Fisher

Scott Fisher is the director of ʻāina (land) stewardship for the Hawai'i Land Trust, where he leads the Trust's ecological stewardship actions, such as the restoration work we saw at Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge in Maui.

Left, Winsome Williams holds a taro plant freshly picked from La Kāhea Community Farm; right, Jakke Aoga walks through taro plants growing in rows. (Photos by Nicola Twilley)

Bobby Pahia

Bobby Pahia is the owner of Hawai'i Taro Farm, a 300-acre taro farm in Waikapu, Maui, where he grows taro with a commitment to creating an equitable local food system.

Winsome Williams, Jakke Aoga, and Whitney Cunningham

Winsome Williams, Jakke Aoga, and Whitney Cunningham are the co-founders of Lā Kāhea Community Farm, a small farm on Bobby's land where they grow taro through regenerative agriculture practices and develop ready-to-eat taro products to sell to the community.

Left, squidgy taro squares cook in the La Kāhea kitchen; right, Winsome demonstrates how to pound taro in a traditional poi board. (Photos by Nicola Twilley)

Noa Kekuewa Lincoln

Noa Kekuewa Lincoln is an assistant professor at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, where he specializes in Indigenous crops and agricultural systems.

Sheldon Simeon

While in Maui, we visited both of chef Sheldon Simeon's restaurants: Tin Roof and the newly-reopened Tiffany's, where Sheldon prepared an incredible set of dishes for us to display taro's flexibility and diversity. Simeon has been nominated for multiple James Beard awards, including a 2022 nomination for Best Chef. He was a contestant on the show Top Chef and is the author of Cook Real Hawai'i: A Cookbook.

The remnants of our delicious meal from Sheldon Simeon at Tiffany's; you can see a bit of light purple poi remaining on the plate to the left, and a taro corm on the top right edge of the photo. (Photo by Nicola Twilley)

More Taro from Eater

If our episode left you fascinated by this versatile root (well, corm, actually) our producer Claudia created a guide for preparing taro for our partners at Eater: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Taro!


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