According to FAO, cocoyam is one of the world’s six most important root and tuber crops. It is particularly common in the Africa, Caribbean, South America and South East Asia.
Despite the popularity of this food crop, I was surprised when I could not find a definitive information on what exactly is referred to as cocoyam. It varies so much around the world.
What Is The Botanical Name Of Cocoyam?
I came across two different botanical names in my search; Colocasia esculenta and Xanthosoma sagittifolium, but I was not sure which to attribute to cocoyam. The reason for this is that in most literature, cocoyam is used as a collective general name for both. Therefore, depending on who is writing, and the part of the world they are writing from; Colocasia esculenta (taro) Xanthosoma sagittifolium (cocoyam) are interchangeably referred to as cocoyam or taro.
To add to the confusion, there is eddo, which also looks like cocoyam and taro; and is a member of the Colocosia family too.
Although, these three food crops appear similar; with brown, hairy and rough skin compared to a potato. There are some differences in size and internal appearance. Cocoyam is the bigger of the three, while eddo and taro are usually about the same size.
Taro has a white flesh with purple specks; and when ground, it takes on a light purple appearance, while eddo is usually white. Cocoyam on the other hand could be white or sometimes with purple specks too, but not as much as taro. Cocoyam is mostly cultivated at subsistence levels in Africa, hence why it is not as common as taro and eddo in the Western world.
Finally, there is yam (African yam), which doesn't look anything like cocoyam, but gets mixed with it because of the "yam" in cocoyam.
What Is Cocoyam Used For?
For this article, I will focus on cocoyam as used within Africa.
It is known by different names across the region. In Nigeria, the Yorubas call it “Koko”; the Igbos call it “Ede”while Hausas call it “Gwaza”. In Ghana, it called “Mankani” in Twi language. It is known as “Nduma” in Kenya, “Malanga” in Senegal and “Macabo” in French speaking parts of Cameroon;
Cocoyam is a very versatile crop, with both the leaves and corm utilised for food. Similar to potatoes, it is used in countless ways. The corm is boiled, fried, roasted, steamed, baked and pounded into dumpling to be eaten with soup. It is made into chips and ground into flour. It is also used as a thickener for some traditional soups like bitter leaf soup etc.
The leaves are eaten as a vegetable;” Kontomire” (Palava sauce) is a popular soup prepared with cocoyam leaves. They are also used to wrap other foods for steaming. “Epkang nkukwo” is dish where grated cocoyam is wrapped in cocoyam leaves before simmering in a sauce with fish, peppers, and palm-oil.
Cocoyam corms and leaves cannot be consumed raw; and must be cooked or processed before eating. This is because they contain high levels of oxalates which can cause itchy or irritating sensation in the throat when consumed raw. This is also the reason why cocoyam causes itchy skin in some individuals. Cooking and other processing methods like soaking in water for a long time destroys the oxalate.
Nutritional Values Of Cocoyam
Cocoyam corms, like most root crops are high in carborhydrates, but have low protein content. They are also a good source of potassium, which regulates acid and water in the blood and body tissues. It also helps to build muscle.
The leaves are rich in vitamin C and Vitamin A. They are also a good source of potassium, calcium and other minerals.
You can buy cocoyam in Asian and African shops in the UK.
Here are some cocoyam recipes to inspire you.