Taro or Gabi

Gabi, or taro, is generally cultivated throughout the Philippines but is not a native of the Archipelago. It is pantropic in cultivation.

Gabi is variable in size and grows from 30 to 150 centimeters in height. The rootstock is tuberous, and up to 10 centimeters in diameter, short or elongated. The leaves, in groups of two or three or more, are long-petioled, ovate, 20 to 50 centimeters long, glaucous, with entire margin, and a broad, triangular, basal sinus extending one-third or half-way to the insertion of the petiole, with the basal lobes broad, rounded. The petioles are green or purplish, and are 0.2 to 1 meter long. The peduncles are usually solitary. The spathe is variable n length but usually about 20 centimeters long, the tubular part green, usually about 4 centimeters long, with the lanceolate, involute, yellow limb about 20 centimeters long. The spadix is cylindric, about half as long as the spathe, green below, yellow or straw-colored above; the male and female inflorescence are each 2.5 to 5 centimeters long, separated by intervals and covered with flat oblong neuters.

Gabi, or taro, is prized chiefly on account of its large corms, or underground stems, which are a staple food in many localities. It has a high starch content, and on this account is very nutritious. The leaves and petioles of gabi are also considerably used as leafy vegetables, and both are very good sources of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. The leaves and petioles of gabi are not only excellent as to taste but also rich in minerals.

In Aklan province, the variety whose leaves and stalks are edible is called gutaw. The leaves are generally used in ginataan (simmered in coconut milk) in itself or as a wrapper for tinumkan, the insides of which are pounded freshwater shrimps or freshwater crabs mixed with young coconut meat and then simmered in coconut milk - similar taste to the Middle Eastern dolmas. When the leaves are cooked alone in coconut milk, the dish is called laing which is a generic term for gabi leaves strictly speaking (Tagalog). In the Bicol region, they have a specialty called pinangat in which about five leaves are bundled together and packed in another leaf. Three of the five leaves are actually shredded to make a filling which may also include pork, dried fish or anchovies and spices (especially red hot pepper!). Then they pour in coconut milk. The secret is the wrapper should not have any holes so that the coconut milk will not leak out. The the packets are then boiled in coconut milk.

The tuber or the root of gabi is also eaten, as vegetable or sweet snack. The best variety in Aklan, at least, is the wahig (right). The tuber of gutaw is also eaten but mostly used as a vegetable included in dishes in which the leaves are used. In desserts gutaw can be mixed with other fruits and root crops like camote (sweet potatoes) and sab-a (cooking bananas similar to plantain) and sweet rice and coconut milk to make eangkoga. The wahig however is solely cultivated for its tuber. The leaves and stalks are not eaten. The tuber is brown skinned and hairy and the flesh is white or have a little bit of purple tinge to it. The best wahigs are those that when the flesh after being boiled is smooth (mapihit). Many a tuber are sometimes coarse (maeagadlad) or brittle.

The tuber is used as ingredient for sinigang (in Luzon) or for desserts - boiled and then eaten with butter or Star margarine and sugar. The best preparation of taro I have eaten is in New Zealand where the Maori (actually my Samoan friends) bake them underground under hot coals in a hangi. There is another variety called palawan or pueawan which is a gigantic plant and the tuber is sweeter.