Taro is becoming more popular, and people are starting to compare them to potatoes. They have some similarities causing many people to ask about their differences. Let’s answer, what is the difference between taro and potato?
Taro is a root vegetable from the plant colocasia esculenta and potato is a root vegetable from the plant solanum tuberosum. Taro has brownish skin with rings and hairs. Potato skin is beige and slightly rough to smooth. Potato flesh is whitish to yellow while taro’s flesh is white, beige or purple with purple specs.
This article will compare all their differences including a side-by-side nutrient comparison. In addition, I’ll examine their tastes, textures, costs and whether one can substitute for the other. We’ll also take a look at their benefits and glycemic index.
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Taro and Potato Origins, Popularity and Production
Taro: Root Vegetable
Taro root originated in the Bay of Bengal, which is located in Southeast Asia. It remains a staple food in this region and the rest of Asia, Oceania, Africa and other tropical places 1.
You can find it pretty much anywhere, but it’s primarily consumed in Asia, Oceania and Africa. Incidentally, that’s where most of it comes from. In the U.S. it’s mostly grown in Hawaii and from South Carolina to Louisiana.
Potatoes are often associated with Europe and America. And rightly so, because they originated in the South American Andes over 8,000 years ago 2
It was brought to Europe by early explorers in the 1500s where Europeans had nothing but wheat and barley until that point.
They are produced and consumed heavily everywhere globally, except for Africa. It’s still harvested and eaten in Africa, but it’s hardly a staple food. It’s safe to say they are significantly more popular overall.
A quick look at the following numbers says it all.
The top five taro-producing countries, including China, produced 10.2 million metric tons in 2014 3. That sounds like a lot, but it’s hardly a match against China’s 101 million metric tons of potatoes in the same year 4
You may have heard taro can make a run at potatoes and win the nutritional war. This may be true to a certain extent. There are some similarities and differences. Therefore, let’s take a look at the nutrients contained in each.
The following table is a side-by-side comparison of their nutrients:
|Potato Raw (100 g)||Taro Raw (100 g)|
|Protein||1.68 g||1.50 g|
|Carbohydrates||15.7 g||26.5 g|
|Fiber||2.4 g||4.1 g|
|Fat||0.10 g||0.20 g|
|Sugar||1.15 g||0.40 g|
|Vitamin A||8 IU||76 IU|
|Beta-carotene||5 mcg||35 mcg|
|Vitamin C||9.1 mg||4.5 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.20 mg||0.28 mg|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||18 mcg||22 mcg|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||0.07 mg||0.09 mg|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||0.03 mg||0.02 mg|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||1.07 mg||0.60 mg|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||0.28 mg||0.30 mg|
|Magnesium||21 mg||33 mg|
|Phosphorous||62 mg||84 mg|
|Potassium||407 mg||591 mg|
|Iron||0.52 mg||0.55 mg|
|Copper||0.11 mg||0.17 mg|
|Calcium||9 mg||43 mg|
|Zinc||0.29 mg||0.23 mg|
They both contain the same types of nutrients. At first glance it’s difficult to determine which one contains a higher percentage than the other. Let’s take a closer look and determine if one is healthier.
Taro is healthier than potatoes due to its higher percentage of fiber, vitamin A, B vitamins and minerals. It provides more B6, folate, thiamin, B5, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper and calcium.
Potatoes are also healthy and provide a good number of nutrients. They have a higher percentage of vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin and zinc. They contain fewer calories and carbohydrates.
Both contain very little total fat. You can’t go wrong choosing one or the other for nutrients.
Which to Choose Based on Your Lifestyle
Your choice may come down to availability, taste preferences or particularly goals. Let’s examine the more popular goals people have.
Weight Loss and Calories
One such goal may be weight loss. Which one is better for weight loss?
Potatoes are better for weight loss than taro due to its fewer calories, carbohydrates and fat. They contain 63% fewer calories. 100 grams contain 69 calories while 100 raw grams of taro contain 112 calories.
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Taste and Texture
Since there are some similarities between the two, many people wonder and ask, does taro root taste like potato?
Taro doesn’t taste like potato. Taro’s flavor is sweet, nutty and meaty while potatoes have a mild, buttery and unsweet flavor. Potatoes taste more earthier. Taro’s texture is drier and chewier than potatoes softer, mushier flesh.
We’re all familiar with the flavor and texture of spuds. When they are baked or fried, they get a golden, crispy crust with a pillowy inside. They get very soft when boiled, so people love turning them into silky smooth mashed.
The flavor is nothing extreme. It’s somewhat earthy and slightly sweet from the naturally occurring sugars.
Taro’s unique flavor is described as sweet, nutty and meaty. Its lower water content results in a dry, chewy texture but boiling or steaming makes it softer. When baked it gets crispy on the outside but remains chewy and meaty on the inside. Its texture has the consistency of tofu or gnocchi.
Find out how plantains compared in taste and texture in my article my article.
There are times when only one of the two is available or you don’t want to run out to the store. In these situations you’ll wonder, if you can substitute one fresh food for the other in a recipe.
Potato and taro can substitute for each other although the taste and texture will differ. They both can be used in the same recipes requiring boiling, baking, frying, soup, stews or mashing. Both can substitute for each other using the same weight called for in a recipe.
The following can substitute for taro:
- Sweet potato
- Yucca root
- White potatoes
The following can substitute for potatoes:
- Sweet potato
- Red potatoes
- Any type of white potato
Ways To Cook Taro
- Taro is cut into cubes and used in curries, especially in India.
- It can be cut into thin slices and fried or baked to make taro chips.
- It is used when making bubble tea.
- Cook taro and use it in soups and sauces.
- Prepare it anyway a potato is prepared.
- The leaves may be steamed and used like spinach.
The skin can be peeled with a vegetable peeler. To avoid sensitivity to the skin, peel under running water using gloves. The oxalic acid crystals from the leaves and raw flesh can irritate sensitive skin. In addition, be careful not to rub your eyes 7.
Many people in Hawaii use it to make Poi. The taro is peeled and then steamed. It is mashed and water is added until the poi is sticky and smooth. It is commonly used in Hawaiian bread recipes.
If you’re interested about how sweet spuds held up against pumpkin for health and nutrition, check out my comparison article here.
With the rising prices of just about everything, the cost of something certainly matters to most. The price may sway your decision about which food to use. Therefore, which costs more?
Taro cost more than potatoes. The average price for potatoes is $0.99 per pound. The average price for taro is $4.99 per pound.
To conduct original research, I decided to visit some local supermarkets and check the prices of both foods.
I first visited the Shoprite supermarket:
- $2.99 per taro
- $0.99 per pound
I also checked Walmart but only found the following prices:
- $0.99 per pound
Why Is Taro So Expensive Compared to Potatoes?
Taro is more expensive than potatoes because it’s significantly more expensive to produce and the cost of transporting it is higher. It is imported into many countries by plane or boat, while potatoes are typically transported by semi-trucks or grown locally.
The full answer pretty much boils down to economies of scale. It is only produced in a handful of tropical and subtropical countries where the crops are very small compared to potatoes. Less production equals higher costs.
Plus, it is harder to harvest and rots quickly, making fast shipping essential.
Find out if Idaho and Russet are really the same in my article here.
How To Store
Whichever you choose or have on hand, proper storage is crucial. How you store them can affect how long they last before going bad and how they taste when cooked. Therefore, let’s examine how to store both vegetables.
Store potatoes in a dark, cool place away from heat and do not store them in the refrigerator. A humid basement or root cellar is the best area. They should be kept in a burlap bag or ventilated container and stored between 40°F and 60°F.
Storing them in a refrigerator can make the center hard and change the cell structure. This can diminish the flavor. If you don’t have a cool basement, store them in a ventilated place, away from heat and light.
Taro should be stored in a cool, dry place up to one week. The leaves should be wrapped in a damp paper towel, sealed in a sealable bag and stored in the refrigerator for two to three days.
Find out how turnips compared in my article here.
Glycemic Index and Blood Sugar
Knowing the glycemic index of food is important especially if blood sugar levels are a concern. Avoiding blood sugar spikes is an important part of consuming healthy food.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scale measuring how fast a particular food raises the blood sugar in the blood 8. Blood sugar spikes can lead to health complications with the heart, nerves, kidneys and eyes 9.
Foods on the GI scale are categorized as:
- Low-GI foods: 55 or under
- Medium-GI foods: 56-69
- High-GI foods: 70 or over
How blood sugars levels are affected:
- Foods with a glycemic index 70 or more cause a quicker spike in blood sugar levels.
- Foods with a glycemic index 56 to 69 cause a moderate spike in blood sugar levels.
- Foods with a glycemic index 55 or less cause a slow spike in blood sugar levels.
Now we know what the glycemic index is, and how it affects blood sugar, let’s answer, which one has a higher GI?
Taro has a lower GI than potatoes depending on the cooking method used. It has a GI of 53, a boiled russet has a GI of 54 and a boiled Yukon Gold has a GI of 58.
Potatoes all have different GI scores. In addition to how it is cooked, the heat when eaten affects the GI.
A study published in the Journal of the Diabetic Association found boiled potatoes eaten cold had a GI score of 56. When eaten hot they had a GI score of 89 10.
Find out how red compared to Russet in my article here.
As noted in the nutrient section of this article earlier, the nutrients provided by both have many health benefits. Let’s examine how each one of these nutrients benefit health issues.
Taro provides 591 mg of potassium per 100 grams raw, approximately 13% of the recommended dietary amount. Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium reducing fluid build-up. These help keep systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 11.
According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 12. The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose.
Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 13.
Taro provides 33 mg of magnesium per 100 grams. Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. Recent scientific research examined previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 14.
Magnesium helps control the following:
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar
- Nerve function
One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.
In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 15.
Find out how cassava compared in my article here.
Taro provides 43 grams of calcium per 100 grams. Calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 16.
Calcium also helps the following:
- Helps nerve function.
- Helps muscles function properly.
- Build and maintain strong bones.
Taro provides 4.1 grams of fiber per 100 gram serving. They both contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber remains in the digestive tract and provides gut related health benefits. Fiber rich diets have been linked to regular bowel movements and a lower risk of colon cancer 17.
Potatoes provide 9.1 mg of vitamin C. The body can’t make vitamin C, so it must come from the foods ate every day. Vitamin C has been shown in studies to help with the growth and repair of tissues throughout the body 18.
Vitamin C helps heal and repair wounds, maintain healthy bones, skin and cartilage. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and fights free radicals which damage the cells. Helping to prevent cell damage can help with the following:
- Certain diseases like cancer.
- Heart disease.
- Promote healthy aging.
The B vitamins provided by both vegetables include the following:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B9 (folate)
B vitamins help support the following:
- Brain function.
- Nerve function.
- Red blood cells.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Energy levels.
A lack of B vitamins has been associated with oxidative stress and neural inflammation. In a study released in 2018 32 healthy adults were given B vitamin supplementation for six months. The results indicated preliminary evidence B vitamin supplementation reduced oxidative stress and inflammation 19.
Find out if rice has more nutrients in my article.
Is taro the same as sweet potato?
Taro and sweet potatoes are not the same and come from different plant families and species. Taro has brown skin with a white flesh and purple specs. Sweet potato has a brown to bronze skin with an orange flesh. Taro has a drier and chewier texture than the smoother sweet potato.
Read Next – More Food Articles!
- ScienceDirect: Taro
- Wikipedia: Potato
- World Atlas: Top Taro Producing Countries In The World
- USDA: China – Peoples Republic of, Potatoes and Potato Products Annual, China’s Potato Production to Increase to 101 MMT
- USDA: Taro, raw
- USDA: Potatoes, white, flesh and skin, raw
- University of Florida: Colocasia esculent, Wild taro, dasheen
- Harvard Health Publishing: Glycemic index for 60+ foods
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Glycemic index of potatoes commonly consumed in North America
- American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
- Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium
- Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mechanisms linking dietary fiber, gut microbiota and colon cancer prevention
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Vitamin C and Immune Function
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of a High-Dose Vitamin B Multivitamin Supplement on the Relationship between Brain Metabolism and Blood Biomarkers of Oxidative Stress: A Randomized Control Trial
- Wikipedia: Taro
- College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources: Taro: Postharvest Quality-Maintenance Guidelines
- Cornell: Evaluation of a Ventilated Underground Storage for Cocoyams (Taro)
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Anticancer and Immunomodulatory Benefits of Taro (Colocasia esculenta) Corms, an Underexploited Tuber Crop
- Wiley Online Library: Perception gaps that may explain the status of taro (Colocasia esculent) as an “orphan crop”
- Wisconsin Horticulture: Elephant Ears (Colocasia, Alocasia, and Xanthosoma)