They are some of the starchiest of all vegetables, but tubers are also foods that are nourishing and energy-giving. In several regional cuisines across India, tubers have been an integral part of local cuisine, and are major calorie contributors, after cereals. Think tapioca, sweet potato, arabi (taro root) and suran (elephant’s foot). And they are nutritional powerhouses—not only do they have antimicrobial, antioxidative properties, tubers have low glycemic index, which means that they slowly release sugars in the blood. Since tubers are rich in soluble fibres, they make good foods to lower blood cholesterol.
Are tubers vegetables?
Yes, tubers are vegetables which mature under the ground and store nutrients in their flesh. India is home to a rich genetic biodiversity of roots and tubers—the southwestern hilly and coastal regions have several unique varieties, and so does northeast India. The more common potato is also a tuber, and used extensively all over the country.
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According to a 2006 report shared by the National Biodiversity Authority, Chennai, tubers are the most important foods for tribals as it sustains their food security. Along with being the richest source of dietary fibres, carotenoids and other antioxidants, tubers possess numerous medicinal properties and are used for preparing tonics and stimulants.
Here’s a list of some common and some unusual roots and tubers that arrive in the markets in winter.
Cassava (Kappa or Tapioca)
Ranking fourth after rice, sugarcane and maize, Cassava or Kappa as it is popularly known in Kerala, is the most important source of calories (334 kcal per 100 grams) and a major source of carbohydrate for over 500 million people across the globe. Popular in southern India as Kappa (Kerala); Mara Genasu (Kannada), and Kuchi or Maravalli Kizhangu (Tamil). In Hindi, it is called Simla Alu and the popular fasting snack sabudana or sago is in fact derived from powdered tapioca. Additionally, it is added to custards and puddings as a thickening agent. The popular Keralite Kappa curry, which is prepared by sauteing cassava pieces in coconut oil with mustard seeds, curry leaves, dry red chillies, garlic and seasoning, is relished with a steaming bowl of rice. The southern states have a special affinity towards chips, flour and papads made from cassava.
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Who can say no to a heavenly bowl of crispy jaggery-coated-ghee-fried sweet potato slices? Shakarkandi in Hindi and Ratala in Marathi, this is a native of northwestern part of America. It thrives well in a tropical climate and hence is cultivated across India. A change in climate and soil also result in different coloured Shakarkand. The orange-fleshed variety fills the markets of Punjab while in the states below Maharashtra, the white-fleshed variety is found. But never mind the colour- as long as you roast, boil or simply eat it raw your body gets a boost of vitamin A (5376 micrograms per 100 grams) which is beyond sufficient to help you reach your recommended daily allowance (700 to 900 micrograms). So chop up some steamed Shakarkandi, toss in tamarind and mint chutney along with some onions, tomatoes and chaat masala and you’ve got yourself a tasty and healthy snack!
Often confused with sweet potatoes, yams have rough brown coloured bark-like skin with a flesh that comes in colours ranging from white to purple. The purple yam, also called as ratalu, is a much-loved tuber in the state of Gujarat and their winter special mixed vegetable dish- Undhiyo is incomplete without it. The white fleshed yam tastes best when mixed with flavourful seasonings, sauces, dressings and spices. It is usually used in side dishes such as tikkas, kebabs and fritters.
Must Try: Arbi Tawa Fry by Chef Gurdip Kohli Punj
Popularly known as Arabi, taro root was the potato equivalent before the Portugese introduced the popular spud to India. If you don’t enjoy the taste of this starchy root, it’s probably because you aren’t eating it right. There’s a reason why Sindhis love their Arabi tuk- bite sized pieces of arabi that are deep fried and tossed in dry spices (chilli powder, coriander powder and amchoor powder). Along with the root, arabi leaves, known as colocasia, are extensively added to north eastern curries. Gujarat’s famous—patra, called aluwadi in Maharashtra and Patrode in Karnataka, is made by layering colocasia leaves with gram flour, ginger-green chilli paste and an assortment of spices. The leaves are then rolled and steamed or fried. Both the tubers and leaves of the plant are a storehouse of nutrients. Colocasia leaves are one of the richest sources of iron (5758 micrograms per 100 grams) while the tuber is rich in potassium.
Elephant foot yam is largely cultivated in Malabar, Wayanad, Chikmagalur and Karnataka. Ettangadi Puzhukku, a sweet dish made with elephant yam, coconut, pulses and jaggery is specially prepared during the Thiruvathira festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Keralites make Chena Mezhukkupuratty, a nutritious stir fry that is served as a side dish—elephant foot yam pieces are fried in in onion garlic paste and black pepper powder, red chilli powder, fennel powder and salt are added. The northern states know it as Suran and is used in curries, bhartas and chutneys. Ayurveda calls the tuber Durnamaree, and lists it as beneficial for piles.
It’s hard to imagine life without aloo tikkis, aloo paranthas or masala dosa. And the soul of these recipes is the humble-looking, easy-on-the-pocket potato. A native of South America, potatoes are grown extensively in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Punjab and West Bengal. While it has been shunned by serial dieters for its high carb content, potatoes contain a higher amount of Vitamin C (26.41mg per 100 grams) than most other tubers. Moreover, potatoes are used for brewing vodka and its starch is extracted and used as a thickener in soups and sauces.
It’s an arduous task to clean the muddy and hairy Chinese potato, popular in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and the Konkan belt. A minor but important tuber, koorka is available only in the winter months. It has a dense structure and a nutty flavour that tastes best in coconut-based curries or stir-frys.
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Yam beans or sankalu look like giant garlic pods, and are especially cultivated for their tuberous roots. The protein content of this starchy tuber is twice as much in other tubers such as sweet potatoes. Yam beans are widely cultivated in West Bengal, Tripura, Bihar, Orissa and Assam and can be boiled or steamed before cooking or simply eaten raw drizzled with lime and chilli powder.
Surprised how water chestnut made it in this list? Well it’s not really a nut but an aquatic tuber that grows in ponds and lakes. In north Indian states, it is called Singhada and it has a white flesh that tastes sweeter when boiled or steamed. Water chestnut is used in oriental dishes and stir-frys. These low-calorie vegetables are a great source of fibre, is gut-friendly and relieves constipation and hemorrhoids.
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