Xanthosoma sagittifolium
Taioba grown on a commercial farm on Martha's Vineyard in 2008

Taioba grown on a commercial farm on Martha's Vineyard in 2008 (Photo by Frank Mangan)


Zoraia Barros, Frank Mangan


Taioba is the leaf of tannia (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), an herbaceous perennial plant originally from the American tropics (Bown, 2000; Wilson, 1984; Rubatzky, & Yamaguchi, 2012) and is very similar in growth and appearance to taro (Colocasia esculenta), which is from Southeast Asia. The leaves of taioba are used as a food crop in parts of Brazil, Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago.

This tropical plant belongs to the family Aracea. Both crops are grown for their root-like corms and cormels that are staples in most of the tropics and subtropics. The flower is light green and white spathe (a leaf-like part that encloses a flower cluster) enclosing a white spadix.

Taioba has many common names, including tannia, arrowleaf elephant ear, malanga, yautia, tiquisque, ocumo criollo, chou caraibe, belembe, mangaretto, calalu, and cocoyam. In Brazil it is considered a “non-conventional vegetable”, meaning is not a commodity such as tomatoes or potatoes.

Taioba grows as a perennial in tropical countries such as Brazil (Figure 1) Taioba is popular in several states in Southeastern Brazil and in other parts of that country is little known or they use the corm (Northeast) and not the leaves.  Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro and Goiás are the states in Brazil where the consumption of this vegetable is most common.

Leaves are sagittate, with ribbed, long petioles with distinct with an elongated sheath. Taioba is used as a leafy green similar to the way spinach is cooked and served as a side dish. In fact, spinach is used as a substitute by Brazilians living in the United States when taioba is not available. The leaves and stems of taioba must be cooked before consuming in order to eliminate calcium oxalate, an irritant found in many aroids (Bradbury and Nixon , 1998). (Figure 2).

In Brazil, the traditional way to  prepare taioba is to strip the leaves from the veins and sauté in olive oil along with garlic; a small amount of water is added, if necessary, to prevent the taioba from sticking to the pan. The time to cook taioba is longer than spinach as the leaves of taioba are thicker. It is also a staple in parts of Africa, especially in Ghana where it is called nkontomire, among other names (Figure 3). Similar to Brazilians, Africans prefer to eat fresh taioba as opposed to canned (Figure 4).

Figure 1. Taioba growing at Fazenda Esperança in the town of Simonésia, Minas Gerais Brazil. Photo by Celina Fernades)
Figure 2. Taioba prepared at a Brazilian restaurant in Boston, Mass. in 2006. (Photo by Raquel Uchôa de Mendonça)
Figure 3. Canned nkontomire for sales at an African market in Worcester in 2006. (Photo by Frank Mangan)
Figure 4. Kontomire, grown at the UMass Amherst Research Farm, for sale at an African market in Worcester in 2006. (Photo by Frank Mangan)


In the tropics, the growth cycle for the corms of taioba last from nine to 11 months. During the first six months the corms and leaves develop; during the last four months the foliage remains stable and, when it begins to flower and dry, the corm and cormels to be harvested.

For production, taioba is usually sown with full exposure to sunlight. They require well-drained soils and do not tolerate the permanent presence of water. The mean temperature for their optimum growth must exceed 68°F/20°C (Manner, 2011). The planting materials most commonly used are portions of the central corm, from 3 to 5 ounces/100 to 150 g (Reyes et. al, 2006) (Figure 5), with three or four buds. They give greater yields than the cormels, which are also sometimes used.

Research began on growing taioba at the University of Massachusetts in 2006. Taioba corms were brought to Massachusetts from the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil with a permit from the USDA Animal Health Inspection Service. Over the next few years a system was created to grow viable transplants and field plants for commercial production:

Corms are forced in into 4 inches/10x15 cm Jiffy® peat pots filled with commercial media (PRO-MIX® plus 20% perlite). The corms were planted in the media leaving one inch/2.5 cm of space from the top of the media to the top of the pot. The corms were grown–out in a glass greenhouse at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Mass with 77°F/25°C day and 68°F/20°C at night temperature regime (Figure 6). Plants received fertilizer (Technigro® 200 ppm N-P-K) on a constant feed basis. The corms were in the greenhouse for ten weeks and then brought to the UMass Research Farm for planting

Taioba is frost sensitive, so the transplants are not put into the field until after a danger of frost. The soil is prepared the same way for any other crop in order to allow the transplants to be put into the ground. At the UMass Amherst Research Farm, raised beds with plastic and drip. Based on research trials, we established a recommended row spacing of one foot in the row six feet (1.8m) on center, for a plant population of 7,072plants/acre. The plants were off-set in the rows to allow for maximum leaf exposure to the sun (Figure 6).Taioba can tolerate shade in the tropics, but it should be grown in full sun in Northern climates in order to get maximum leaf yield in the Northeastern U.S. (Figure 7).

The leaves are harvested by hand with scissors or sharp knives starting four weeks after transplanting into the field, depending on weather and leaf growth (Figure 8). The best results for maximum yield and quality in Massachusetts are when leaves are harvested every other week, depending on weather; it can be less often with cooler weather. In order to harvest taioba weekly to provide a consistent supply to markets , we divide the field in two sections and harvest weekly alternating the fields.

Pest Management

No serious insect problems have been observed in Massachusetts.

Leaf spots and virus (Dasheen mosaic potyvirus (DsMV)) may occur. Dasheen mosaic virus (DsMV) is member of the family Potyviridae, genus Potyvirus and infects taioba and other aroids wherever they grow. DsMV infection results in characteristic feathery-mottle and mosaic symptoms on leaves and can cause more than 50% production losses on edible aroids (Judith, 2013; Lebot 2009; Reyes et al. 2006). In Costa Rica, a system has been developed for supplying growers with "seed" originating from virus-free cultivations of stem tips grown in vitro (Monge et.al, 1987). Elimination of the malanga (tannia) virus is so far the most remunerative control operation in tannia cultivation.

There have been very serious disease issues with taioba production in Massachusetts. Both Pythium spp. and Rhizoctonia solani have been identified as potential causal agents of disease. More research is needed to ascertain the exact disease complex causing this issue. For the time being it is recommended to grow this crop in drier soils on raised beds to prevent creating a moist soil environment conducive for diseases.

Figure 5. Taioba corms placed in 4" peat pot
Figure 6. Taioba transplants ready for the field in 2008. (Photo by Renato Mateus)
Figure 7. Taioba being transplanted at the UMass Amherst Research Farm in 2008. (Photo by Frank Mangan)
Figure 8. A field of taioba at the UMass Amherst Research Farm in 2011. Photo by Frank Mangan)

Seed Sources

The most common way to propagate this crop in the developing world is by using parts of the central corm with three or four buds.

Post-Harvest and Packing

In room temperature a major challenge to its utilization is the limited shelf‐life (3–5 days maximum) (Acheampong et al., 2015). Based on research at the University of Massachusetts, good quality of taioba can be maintained for up to 10 days when kept at 50° F in polyethylene bags with holes for air exchange (Figure 9). 

Figure 9. Zoraia Barros holding taioba bunched ready to go inside of the box.

Nutritional Information

Taioba presents protein contents close to 27% (Pinto, 2001; Espindola, 1987), which indicates as a source for it in human food. Is a good source of vitamin C, compared to the amounts in orange. A study on X. sagittifolium found that 35.87 g of leaf blades with venules, 36.18 g of leaf blades without venules or 51.95 g of petioles could supply the daily needs of calcium for an adult (Pinto et al. 1999). The contents of oxalic acid found I taioba are inferior to spinach, that is rich in calcium oxalate and widely used in baby foods. Taioba is rich in iron, phosphorus, calcium, potassium and manganese.

View a video produced by UMass on how to prepare taioba sauté, a popular dish in Brazil.


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