[Sca-cooks] Taro was: looking for lentil recipe

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Fri Mar 11 16:00:39 PST 2011

> Wait. Does that mean that the colocasia in Apicius is or isn't Taro root?
> There are numerous references to colocasia leaves and sometimes roots in
> medieval Indian food descriptions, I thought this was taro, too.
> *confused*
> Madhavi

You have just stepped into one of the open questions of culinary history.

A number of sources state that C. esculenta was known to the Romans.  That 
it was grown primarily in Egypt (due to the more tropical climate).  And 
that it fell out of use in Europe as the Western Empire dissolved.  In my 
view, Apicius is fairly good evidence of this theory.  Less satisfactory are 
the conflicting descriptions found in various other authors.

Clifford Wright is the primary opposition to the Roman adoption theory.  He 
makes a case for taro being introduced to the Mediterranean by the Arabs 
about the 10th Century.  However, as much as I can determine, he avoids 
Apicius in the presentation of his theory.  Wright is a good source, but 
I've noted omissions is some of his presentations, so I usually approach his 
work very carefully.

It is believed that taro originates in the area around the Bay of Bengal, so 
the Indian references to taro are probably just that.  From Eastern India, 
beginning at least 5,000 years ago, it went west to Africa, east to 
Southeast Asia, and out to the Pacific Islands.  There was a fair amount of 
Sea Trade from Egypt and the Levant through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf 
into Southern Arabia, Africa and India during the 1st Milleneum BCE, so it 
is very possible that taro had reached Egypt before the Roman period. 
European access to taro would have been cut off no later than 642 CE when 
Egypt was taken in the Islamic expansion.  Apicius is usually considered 1st 
Century CE, so taro would have been possible.

Prospero Alpini describes taro in his Plants of Egypt, but he's 15th Century 
and too late to settle this debate.

There is enough to make me think that taro was available and enough to make 
me question how common it might have been.


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