Kalo Nutrition and Health Benefits

Written by Kirthi Hagalwadi, Masters Student in Public Health at San Jose State University and Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Co-op Intern January-April, 2023. 

Kalo taro corm root

Kalo (taro), the most culturally significant of Hawaiʻi-grown staples, holds a special place in Hawaiʻi's traditions as a symbol of reciprocal relationships. Embedded in Hawaiʻi’s creation story, kalo is believed to be the firstborn son of the sky father and earth mother. The son was stillborn and, after being buried and watered by the tears of his mother, he grew to become the kalo plant – also regarded as the older brother of Hāloa (‘everlasting breath'), the first human.

Beyond its cultural significance, kalo boasts numerous nutritional benefits suitable for all ages. The recent surge in interest in indigenous crops and diets aligns with the growing awareness of their wisdom, offering advantages to personal, community, and environmental health, including food security and cultural preservation [2].

kalo paa table taro

Traditionally served as a staple starch accompanying meals, kalo is prepared by steaming and cut into cubes, known as kalo paʻa, resembling potatoes. Cooked kalo can also be pounded into paʻiʻai or poi, rich in B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, and essential minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and calcium [1;8]. Baby food that was prepared in a similar method to poi has been shown to reduce infants’ discomfort from health conditions like diarrhea and pneumonia [8].

a bowl of hawaiian poi

Kalo cannot be consumed raw due to a condition called acridity [6;7].  This acridity can cause swelling of lips, mouth and throat, though more commonly itchiness and pain when raw or insufficiently cooked tissues are eaten. The cause has been thought to be due to the sharp calcium oxalate crystals (raphides) found in all taros. More recent data suggests that it is not the crystals but an allergen on the surface and grooves of these sharp crystals that causes the acridity. People also vary in their sensitivity to acridity. Boiling, steaming, or baking taro inactivates the substances on the crystals in most common taro varieties. Some wild taro are so acrid that they might require hours of cooking and some can still be inedible. Cooking helps increase antioxidant activity and allows for other nutritional benefits in preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. [9]

Once cooked, all parts of kalo are edible. Kalo itself is a good source of potassium, manganese, and B-complex vitamins, with  higher quantities per serving than that of whole milk [8]. Kalo is also high in copper. Additionally, kalo contains 5.1g of dietary fiber per 100g serving when cooked and unsalted [12]. This is 12x greater than the dietary fiber found in white rice, 3x greater than in white potatoes, and nearly 2x greater than found in wheat flour [10-13]! Dietary fiber helps decrease constipation, reduces the risk of hemorrhoids, lowers cholesterol levels, and controls blood sugar levels [4].

In Hawaiʻi, Native Hawaiians (NH) and other Pacific Islanders (PI) have disproportionately high rates of heart disease (~20%) and related non-communicable diseases such as – obesity (~74%) and diabetes (~20%) [3]. For comparison, the rates of these diseases for non-Hispanic Whites are ~7%, ~54%, and <6%, respectively. Returning to a traditional diet, such as including kalo, could help reverse these health disparities. Additionally dietary fiber also contributes to feelings of fullness and allows for individuals to feel full faster and consume less calories in the process [4]. 


Kalo also contains a high amount of beta-carotene at 39 micrograms per 100g serving when cooked without salt [8;10]. The body can convert beta-carotene into vitamin A, which provides benefits such as supporting the health of your heart, lungs, eyes, and other organs [5]. Additionally, vitamin A helps decrease the risk of some forms of cancer, age-related macular degeneration (vision loss in the elderly), and measles. 

The cultural importance of kalo is also deeply rooted in everyday practices. Traditional methods of farming, cooking, and serving kalo have been passed down through generations, creating a living connection between the past and the present.

generational Hawaiian kalo growers

Cultivation and consumption of kalo go beyond personal health; they contribute to community cohesion and identity. Community events and festivals centered around kalo not only celebrate its cultural significance but also strengthen the bonds within Hawaiian communities. Initiatives promoting sustainable cultivation of kalo not only preserve traditions but also have a positive impact on local economies, showcasing the interconnectedness of health, culture, and community well-being.

Moreover, the inherent sustainability of kalo cultivation aligns with traditional Hawaiian values of responsible stewardship of the land, fostering a harmonious relationship between the people and their environment.

Incorporating kalo into breadfruit agroforestry

In summary, kalo's cultural significance extends beyond tradition; it plays a crucial role in ensuring food security, benefiting individuals, communities, and the environment. Kalo is a nutritious choice to combat health issues, especially in populations prone to non-communicable diseases. Embracing native roots can pave the way for a healthier future while preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Hawaiian people.

Explore Kalo Recipes Here: https://eatbreadfruit.com/blogs/recipes/tagged/kalo?page=1


1. Brown, A.C., Ibrahim, S.A., Song, D. (2016). In R.R. Watson & V.R. Preedy (Eds.).,Fruits, vegetables, and herbs: Bioactive foods in health promotion(pp. 331-342). Elsevier, Inc.

2. Kagawa-Viviani, A., Levin, P., Johnston, E., Ooka, J., Baker, J., Kantar, M., Lincoln, N.K.(2018). I ke ēwe ‘āina o ke kupuna: Hawaiian ancestral crops in perspective. Sustainability, 10(4607), 1-36. DOI:10.3390/su10124607

3. Kaholokula, J.K., Ing, C.T., Look, M.A., Delafield, R., Sinclair, K. (2018). Culturally responsive approaches to health promotion for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Annals of Human Biology, 45(3), 249-263. https://doi.org/10.1080%2F03014460.2018.14655934. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022, November 4). Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic.https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art20043983#:~:text=Dietary%20fiber%20increases%20the%20weight,Helps%20maintain%20bowel%20health

5. National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Vitamin A [Fact Sheet]. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/

6. Paull, R.E., Tang, C., Gross, K., Uruu, G. (1999). The nature of the taro acridity factor. Postharvest Biology and Technology, 16(1999), 71-78. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0925-5214(98)00099-4

7. Paull, R.E., Zerpa-Catanho, D., Chen, N.J., Uruu, G., Wai, C.M.J., Kantar, M. (2022). Taro raphide-associated proteins: Allergens and crystal growth. Plant Direct, 6(e443), 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1002/pld3.443

8. Rashmi, D.R., Raghu, N., Gopenath, T.S., Palanisamy, P., Bakthavatchalam, P., Karthikeyan, M., Gnanasekaran, A., Ranjith, M.S., Chandrashekrapa, G.K., Basalingappa, K.M. (2018). Taro (Colocasia esculenta): An overview. Journal of Medicinal Plants Studies, 6(4), 156-161.

9. Temesgen, M., Retta, N. (2015). Nutritional potential, health, and food security benefits of taro Colocasia esculenta (L.): A review. Food Science and Quality Management, 36(2015), 23-30. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318562639_Nutritional_potential_Health_and_Food_SecurityBenefits_of_Taro_Colocasia_esculenta_L_A_Review

10. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019). Potatoes, baked, flesh, without salt. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170033/nutrients

11. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019). Rice, white, long-grain, regular, enriched, cooked. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168878/nutrients

12. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019). Taro, cooked, without salt. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168486/nutrients

13. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2018). Wheat flour, whole-grain, soft wheat. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168944/nutrients


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