Friday, September 19, 2008

Taro - Toxic When Raw

I'm a Methodist, and I like to cook. Sometimes, I think that the two go hand in hand. As a Methodist, I've picked up some interesting recipes. Recently, and thanks to my church, I developed a variant to my standard Black Bean Soup recipe - Black Bean With Taro Leaf Soup.

Another congregation, which shares the church building with my church, grows taro plants on the lawn of the church. Their growing efforts have been truly inspiring - several dozen good sized plants, each with 2, 4, or 6 good sized leaves. We were told a couple months ago that we should feel free to cut the leaves from the plants, which encourages growth of more leaves and forces the roots to grow (which is the primary goal).

So, once or twice a week recently, I've taken my scissors into the taro patch, and cut 2 or 3 nice leaves to take home home with me. Black bean soup, with taro, is very tasty, and I've now developed a decent recipe.

Now my theory about cooking is that natural cooks always want to know what the food tastes like, and by extension, what each ingredient tastes like. By knowing this, you can sometimes come up with your own recipes, which in my opinion is when you really start being a cook, rather than just cooking.

Not all ingredients which you might use in your recipes should be sampled before cooking, and taro leaf is one of those ingredients. I found this out last night, and not the easy or enjoyable way. But I am still here, and able to write this, so I am thankful for the experience, and for being able to write this. And, I am thankful for the California Poison Control System Hotline, at 1-800-222-1222.

Anyway, to the gory details. I had just finished chopping the taro leaves - I make 1/2" chunks, which makes it possible to eat the beans, onions, taro, etc neatly, in a spoon. And the 1/2" chunks is probably why I get to tell this tale.

Curious about what taro tastes like, i took a piece, put it in my mouth, chewed, and swallowed. Tangy, not like lettuce, more like spinach. Online references put taro in the family with kale. The second piece, tasty too. The third piece, not at all tasty. My mouth felt like it was full of cotton, except for the burning sensation which made me think that I had gotten a chunk of jalapeno pepper on the leaf. I spit that out, into the sink, and got back to work.

I then realised that my mouth was a bit numb - not unpleasantly so, and my tongue seemed to be growing. Again, as if I'd just had a big mouthful of my Kick In The Seat Of Your Pants Chili, but without the flavour. I couldn't taste a thing. Even a couple handsful of taco chips, and several glasses of fizzy beverage, and my throat was still burning.

As I was later chatting by Instant Messenger, with my Aussie bud, Bob, I casually asked about raw taro leaf, and if he had ever tried it, and his immediate response was
No, Chuck, you shouldn't do that.
Upon my query
Why not?
Bob shortly came back with the article in WikiPedia: Taro.
In its raw form the plant is toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate
That in itself was a bit scary.

But, it got worse, in the accompanying and linked article, Calcium oxalate, with the advice
Even a small dose of calcium oxalate is enough to cause intense sensations of burning in the mouth and throat, swelling, and choking. In larger doses, however, calcium oxalate causes severe digestive upset, breathing difficulties and — if enough is consumed — convulsions, coma and death.
Fortunately, I had consumed maybe 1 teaspoonful of taro leaf, a minor amount.

Bob next advised me to consider a visit to a hospital emergency room. Since the sensation of 1/2 hour ago was, finally, starting to dissipate, I declined that idea, but noting the additional mention in the latter article
Medication adminstered at the ER included Benadryl, Epinephrine, Pepcid
I decided that a visit to a late night pharmacy would be a good idea. Thanks to a clerk at my local Lucky's Supermarket, after I swallowed 2 Benadryl tabs, accompanied by a pint of iced tea (the first thing I grabbed at the checkout counter), when I got home I called California Poison Control System Hotline, at 1-800-222-1222.

Upon my describing my dosage as a teaspoon or so of taro leaf, the calm and professionally given advice was
Rinse your mouth with lots of ice water, which will relieve the burning and swelling, and go to bed.
with the further observation that my dosage was equivalent to having eaten
a raw chili pepper, and would have a similar effect.

Anyway, still full of adrenaline and caffeine, bed was not something which I was able to use until a couple hours later. But, I did survive the experience, as I'm able to post this in comfort. The sensations are, now, but a memory.

I do not, however, recommend that anybody attempt to verify my experience. I surely do not intend to repeat it.

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Anonymous said...

Oh, mate - if they could read a transcript of our 'chat' from last night - the pregnant pause for half an hour, while you went for help - and the following ribbing I gave you for eating raw Taro leaves, it would be a Best Seller!

Still, a good memory - best kept that way, too!


Ziggy said...

this is friggin hilarious! hahahaha! i'm asian and it is everywhere in our neck of the woods (though i'm in aussie now). you can whip up a wicked taro dinner by sauteeing it in garlic and onion, put in coco milk and let it simmer to boil. yum!

don't forget to soak the leaves for 2 hours in cold water before you cook it. you don't want to be calling the poison hotline again.

Debra Llacuna said...

You should eat some Lau Lau.Taro leaves are wrapped around some pork or chicken and then steamed for at least 4 hours.Gets rid of that toxin that usually gives you a scratchy throat. Or you can have some poi Hawaiian Style.This is a first for me Blogging that is.Enjoyed reading your blog. Mahalo and Aloha Deb3L

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post. I was very curious, and the over-generalized descriptions elsewhere didn't quite capture the experience enough to assuage my curiosity. Your story however, explains it exactly. LOL!

Megan. said...

thanks that was a cracker I found your article after I had bought what I thought was a strange vegetable, the only instructions at the supermarket were that it was like potato. Nothing about being toxic when eaten raw and when I cut it open to cook was interested in that it was sticky so have just touched it and tried to taste it....hmmm great to find your article, but well after the event.....

Great story

Unknown said...

I just did the exact same thing. Poison centre said to drink milk, eat yoghurt, almonds or other calcium rich food. Calcium deactivates the oxylate apparently

ali1514 said...

Treatment of irritated tongue and throats caused by eating raw taro leave. You should eat some Banana & Persimmon immediately. This is natural 100% treatment within 20 minutes.

bh said...

I just at a small leaf and stem!!!
Googled - eating raw taro and found you! Thank heavens.
I first had my daily dose of raw ginger. About an inch cubed. I went and fed the goldfish and decided to taste that small leaf on my new taro plant. I have it growing in the top of the fish tank.
The burning I chalked up to the ginger. the prickles in my throat were alarming and reminded me of what you hear about allergic reactions. Swelling started fast. I began to scrape little bits off the back of my tongue. With my nails. I gargled and spit best I could. I ran for the scotch and gargled with that then had a wee sip to get past the gargle zone...I brushed my teeth and found them to be tender and squeeky! Googled-found this-scrolled for needed info and took a couple calcium pills. I ate my yogurt for breakfast and well now after 10 min or so... I still feel a little prickly in the throat. Choked that all the grow taro videos don't mention this. I will have to add warnings to all the ones I can find on utube. Thank you so much for taking the time to inform me! Brenda xoxo

Unknown said...

glad you survived it!

yesterday i ate chicken laulau. the one i ate probably wasn't cooked well, bc everyone else that ate it was just fine. there was this numb sensation in the back of my tongue, then my throat started to hurt when i swallowed. when i checked my tongue in the mirror, there were red bumps :(

my boyfriend drove me to a nearby store, grabbed some benadryl, &i took it right away.

the bumps are still near the back of my tongue, but they're not as big or red as they were yesterday. *sigh now i feel like i can't eat laulau anymore. lol.

Michelle Simmons said...

Found your blog after I made a "green" smoothies with a taro leaf... Took a sip of it and was like "wow this is spicy!" Then felt like I needed to puke. Clearly not meant for consumption but I didn't know that until I tried it!!

Unknown said...

OMG I just made myself some taro chips. Sliced very finely and fried in olive oil - one bite and my mouth was on fire, inside of lips and cheeks burning, drooling saliva and tongue anaesthetised a bit like after being at the dentist. Rinsed mouth with water and am still in agony 4 hours later. Thank God I didn't swallow any. Taken myself off to bed and am Googling everything I can find out about taro and trying to eat yoghurt but it's almost too painful to put anything into my mouth! Horrible experience. Woe is me!

Unknown said...

OMG I just made myself some taro chips. Sliced very finely and fried in olive oil - one bite and my mouth was on fire, inside of lips and cheeks burning, drooling saliva and tongue anaesthetised a bit like after being at the dentist. Rinsed mouth with water and am still in agony 4 hours later. Thank God I didn't swallow any. Taken myself off to bed and am Googling everything I can find out about taro and trying to eat yoghurt but it's almost too painful to put anything into my mouth! Horrible experience. Woe is me!

Unknown said...

I ate a few under cooked taro leaves, my throat hurts like needles sting it. My whole stomach was hurting for over 24 hours and couldn't sleep for the night. The chef didn't soak the leaves for two hours. Nor did she cook it well so I ended up to be poisoned badly.

Unknown said...

Black Bean Soup recipe is one of the best food i have ever eaten. It's so tasty and
healthy. I wish i would eat this again. Last i have eaten it, when i was with my family.

Unknown said...

I'm glad for your story. I just ate a small leaf of taro raw, felt itching and burning, and started researching immediately. Your story calmed and relieved me. I'll wait it out. Not a fun kind of chili.

Unknown said...

i am in fiji and was in the store where they have all these fresh veggies they looked so good i tasted the lettece and what i thought was fijian spinache, i ate a small handfull all of a sudden my mouth was on fire. anyway to make a long story short, i got back to my boat and went on the internet to find this story. i will wait it out. i thought i was going to have to go to hospital. The fijjians in the shop said eat surgar, i have to say it didn't do a thing, Ice cream helped for the time i ate it but then when i stopped the pain in my mouth was almost unbearble. My whole mouth is numb and feels raw, my throat feels like the worst sore throat i've ever had. At one point i thought my throat was going to close. i am drinking ice cold water and it hurts to swallow. Wow I will never start eating veggies that i don't know what it is. My husband said i shouldn't have been tasting the veggies. i am scared at what its going to do to my stomach now? I can't believe people eat this.

tonya said...

So glad we found your story. We are in Hawaii and my husband dug up what he thought was a taro root (it's actually a cousin to the Taro, as if it makes a difference). My husband wanted to taste it, so he took a small bite of it. He had the same reaction that everyone here has had. He thought he was having the worst allergic reaction he's ever had, his throat was on fire. Our tour guide called 911. The paramedics arrived and said that there wasn't much they could do. They told us how dangerous raw taro is to eat, and that what my husband ate is worse. It needs to be cooked for several hours to get rid of the little crystals that make up the raw taro. If you don't, it is like eating fiberglass. He took benadryl which knocked him out for the night. It's now the next day and he is still feeling it. I found your article and have been reading the comments. He just ate a banana, which hurt, he's drank yogurt, and is hoping it will go away soon. I can't believe we've never heard about this. It is scary stuff.