Gabi / Taro Leaves

Gabi, taro or callaloo leaves are poisonous if eaten raw. taro1How anyone figured out how to eat them at all is a testament to desperation (hunger forces you to do things you would otherwise not do), persistence (keep testing out ways to eat it until you find a safe one), or serendipity (maybe some dude or dudette 6000 years ago accidentally threw it into a boiling pot of soup and it tasted good). Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is native to the Old World, but has become an important crop in the equatorial regions of the world. It is believed to have been cultivated as long as 6000 years ago and some sources assert that it originated in Southeast Asia or India. Raw taro leaves contain crystals of calcium oxalate which are poisonous, according to Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food. I read recently of a situation where the business class passengers on a transpacific flight of a major airline fell mysteriously ill… until an investigation uncovered that a meal served on board was presented on top of a raw cut taro leaf used as the garnish, YIKES! (I think this episode was narrated in a book by Jeffrey Steingarten) Photo at right shows fresh raw taro leaves hanging at the market…

Fresh taro leaves are large and rather soft. They are used extensively as a vegetable in Asian and Caribbean recipes. In the Philippines, the leaves are often dried in the sun first before cooking (plate of dried taro leaves at right). taro2The outdoor drying helps to “kill off” the effects of the calcium oxalate. Most books recommend boiling the leaves extensively to eliminate the toxins. The most common taro leaf dish in the Philippines, and one of my favorites, is Laing (gabi leaves boiled in coconut milk with chillies, recipe to follow soon). Taro leaves are readily available in the provinces and are a nutritious source of vitamins and fiber. Today, pre-packaged dried gabi leaves are sold in markets all over the city and this makes the preparation of Laing even less cumbersome.


9 Responses

  1. hi , interesting your article, but I am very curious to know what is the concentration of calcium crystal in the leaves of taro which mAke so dangerous if we eat raw?
    so % of this CaOx, thanks

  2. I have taro leaves from purple taro plants , I need to sale them , Ihave a 25 hectares planting in Costa Rica Central America,Plese contact me if you are interesting.

  3. Taro leaves are trully carries a toxin and can be dangerous if not prepared in hygenic and proper way. Some are eating it raw(as i witnessed) with just salted fish and tomatoes but its a very uncommon way of foraging on it. They said that thru smashing it and cleaning with salt, all the toxins will disappear, i dont think so! Even sometimes that a taro were boiled soft and lean, still you can feel the itchy taste which is the sign of a toxin…

  4. phew, good thing i read your entry about taro leaves MM before cooking laing!!! i had no idea raw leaves are poisonous!!

  5. i was wondering if you sell the taro leaves to people? my husband is tongan and we would love to be able to make tongan lu but are unable to find the taro leaves. if so, how much? thank you!
    Jessica Toke

  6. hi,nice article..i love laing a lot but right now im pregnant & i want to cook laing, is it hanrmful to pregnat women to eat dried taro leaves? thanks a lot..

  7. I bought several packages of dried taro leaves because it is cheaper and readily available. Never tried the dried leaves before. So I didn’t expect that they won’t turn out to the way I expected after cooking them. I am not sure if it is due to the kinds of leaves I bought or … are they normally don’t cook like the undried leaves? The leaves in my laing are rubbery and indigestible. Anyone knows how to make them soft after cooking? I heard there is a preparation to do. Anyone knows?



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