A minor crop in world trade, but an important crop for food security, aroids are widespread throughout the humid tropics. The genera Colocasia and Xanthosoma are the most widely grown aroids, the former commonly known as taro and dasheen the latter as cocoyam or tannia.
The aroids rarely enter into world commerce, as they are mostly grown in subsistence agriculture systems and for local markets. However, the aroids play a substantial role in the food security of millions of people in the tropics. The starch rich corms are the main product, but the leaves and the flowers are also eaten. Aroids are used as emergency or famine foods in times of food shortage. Some taro cultivars have extreme flood tolerance and can give substantial yields even in places too wet for paddy-field agriculture.
Taro is typically eaten boiled, stewed, sliced or fried (to chips or tempura), or dried and ground into flour. The leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals.
The aroids are known as one of the “orphan crops”, meaning they receive minimal attention from modern plant breeding relative to their importance as a food source. The crops in this group clearly have great potential, and there is considerable diversity both within species and between them. It is estimated that there are more than 1,000 varieties of taro alone. There are genebank collections of both taro and cocoyam diversity around the world, with large holdings of taro in South East Asia and smaller collections of cocoyam in the Caribbean and West Africa.