By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN
November 30, 2020
Callaloo was a must-have for our traditional Sunday lunch growing up Trini'! It was also a fun activity to splash the dasheen plant with water and roll the droplets around the broad leaf, in utter amazement.
It is a versatile side dish - add pig tail, crab or smoked bones to boost its flavor, or exclude all animal products for a vegetarian dish (that's still very tasty)!
Dasheen bush, also called callaloo bush (because it is primarily used for making callaloo), is actually the leaves that grow atop the dasheen/taro root vegetable.
Alternate names: Elephant ear, taro leaves
Native to eastern Asia, Colocasia esculenta, or Taro, is a tender herbaceous perennial that grows best in organically rich, wet soil and tropical climates (1). To grow the plant in colder temperatures, keep indoors.
It is used in the Southern Caribbean in a variety of dishes and all parts of the plant are poisonous, unless cooked first (1).
This vegetable can be prepared similarly to spinach and other dark, green leafy vegetables, but it is most popularly known for making callaloo (see this recipe from the Naparima cookbook).
It can be sautéed/stewed with tomato, onions and garlic (other seasonings as desired) and "cooked down" to be served as a side dish.
High in vitamins A, C and K, the dasheen bush is a good source of fiber, low in carbohydrates (hence it is a non-starchy veg) and is naturally gluten-free.
It provides some protein and small amounts of the essential minerals, iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium (2).
When used in combination with an overall healthy lifestyle, dasheen bush may:
Aid in regular bowel movements that reduce the occurrence of constipation
Potassium is heart friendly as it helps to reduce high blood pressure
Vitamins A and C are antioxidants that boost immunity, and play key roles in skin health
Vitamin K aids in blood clotting, and a consistent amount of vitamin K-rich foods must be consumed every day by those taking blood thinners
Ensure that the surroundings are clean, well-lit and well-ventilated; at the grocery store, observe the shelves for cleanliness, read the package label for the "best buy" date and ensure that the package has not been tampered with or opened
The dasheen bush should be clean, free of excess dirt, bruises, bites, or pests
Avoid buying if it's placed on the ground, especially close to the roadway where it can be easily contaminated
Store the whole leaves fresh, or pre-cut, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week
Alternatively, fresh leaves can be chopped, packaged into a freezer bag and frozen for a longer period
The Caribbean Market highlights the nutritional facts and health benefits of fruits and vegetables found in the Caribbean, with the goals of instilling pride and ownership in the diaspora and promoting local eating.