Xanthosoma sagittifolium originated in the jungles of southern Central America, Venezuela, French Guiana, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and other South American nations and spread quickly throughout most of the Caribbean. Although it is considered “invasive” in South Florida it is commonly grown in large fields, which most people call simply “Elephant ears”, to satisfy the needs of Florida’s varied Latin and Caribbean communities. The Xanthosoma, also known as the Coco Yam, is one of several elephant ear plants grown throughout the tropical world for food. Thought, don’t get confused with Colocasia esculenta (Taro) that is native to tropical Asia and Polynesia. Taro can be distinguished from elephant ears by the attachment of the leaf from the petiole. In taro, the petiole attaches to the leaf several inches from the base of the ‘V’ of the leaf, while the petiole is attached directly at the base in elephant ears. The leaves are light green for elephant ear and darker green in color for taro. Both have arrow-shaped leaves with long petioles and wavy margins. Elephant ear plants can grow up to 9 feet in height, while taro is much shorter – rarely reaching 4 feet tall. Leaves are produced from corms which are underground bulblike structures. Rhizomes give rise to offshoots that extend from the corm.
Xanthosoma sagittifolium is not typically grown as a landscape plant, but rather a food product. The leaves of the Yautia can get extremely large, and as a result, makes an impressive tropical plant in a garden landscape. The leaves are quite fragile and easily torn so the plant should be protected from wind. The tuber is one of the most popular foods in some countries and provides a basic diet for many. The tubers can be harvested and stored for several weeks if refrigerated.
Certainly, not all parts of every elephant ear plant is poisonous, some parts are. Coming in contact with the clear, sticky sap can cause severe itching. This means you should carefully research the proper way to prepare, cook and eat each kind of elephant ear plant before trying. Technically, Yautia roots are corms, meaning that they are not roots, but rather underground stems which are used to store valuable nutrients for the parent plant. This makes Yautia extremely valuable nutritionally, since it contains concentrated nutrition. At first glance, the corms of Yautia plant look sort of like hirsute yams, with dark brown to orangeish skin covered in wiry hair. When split open, the corms have creamy white flesh.
From America, Yautia reached West Africa, which is now the major producer. There, it has been displacing the cocoyam or taro because of its better yield and because it can replace yams for preparing ‘fufu’, a very popular food in tropical Africa. In Puerto Rico, tests have begun with very satisfactory results for making crisps using instant dehydration and Yautia flour. On most of the Latin American markets, the Yautia is valued as a superior species because of its flavor and texture. Consumers of Yautia describe the flavor as nutty and very earthy. Some people say that it tastes more like a nut than a vegetable. In addition to being ground up for flour, the corms can also be sliced and fried, stewed, or grilled. The leaves are also used as a source of roughage, appearing in stews and on other dishes when they are still young and tender.
1 bunch of Yautia leaves, rinsed
2 cups brown rice or bulgur wheat, cooked
2 teaspoons dried or fresh mint, chopped.
2 teaspoons dried or fresh parsley, chopped.
1 teaspoon spice mix
1/4 teaspoon hot chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 cup vegetables like grated carrots or green onions or broccoli, finely chopped.
For the Sauce
¾ of a pint of low fat milk
25g low fat butter spread
25g plain flour
1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
Salt and a shake of white pepper
1 bay leaf
Heat a small pot over a medium to high heat and add the milk and the bay leaf.
Allow the milk to warm, but not boil, for a minute or so, then add the flour and butter and whisk in. Allow the sauce to bubble away and bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow simmering for 3-5 minutes, partially covered with a lid or plate. If the sauce is looking a little thick, you can add a splash of milk or boiling water if needed. Remove the bay leaf and add the grated nutmeg and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning with pepper and a little salt if needed and serve.
Trim the thick stems off of each Yautia leaf. Place the bunch of washed Yautia leaves between wet paper towels and microwave for 1 minute. This is to lightly steam and soften the leaves so they are easier to stuff. Mix all the filling ingredients. Place 2-4 Tbsp of the filling inside each Yautia leaf and fold the sides over to create pouches. Pack the stuffed leaves side by side in a casserole dish with the seamed sides down. Serve immediately or reheat later in the microwave and top with 2 Tbsp of Bechamel sauce.