All About Arrow Roots (Nduma/Taro Root)

I had highlighted the benefits of having parents who are farmers on another post and among the things my parents grow is arrowroot, locally referred to as Nduma. Weird enough, someone saved my father’s name as ‘Mr. X wa Nduma’ on Truecaller! Kenyans *smh*!! Let me clear the air, my paps is an accountant by profession, a real estate agent by proxy and a farmer by choice! Oh… and a really good father to us and husband to my mum! He taught us the art of making our own money by not giving us pocket money but allowing us to make as much as we could depending on the number of arrowroot sales we made. I think my husband and I will use the same approach with our children to teach them how to rely on their ability to make their own money. I’d like them to have a producer mindset and not a consumer one!

I digress.

At any given time, we always had arrowroots in the house. Over time, boiling them and having them for breakfast became a bore. So, we adapted and learnt to diversify the things we could do with these tasty tubers. One of the things we learnt was that arrowroots are similar to potatoes, the main difference being that one takes a shorter time to cook and the other needs to be slightly boiled before it can be incorporated into other dishes. The difference in time and technique for cooking is accounted for by the fact that potatoes have a simple starch structure, which makes it easier to break down as compared to the complex starch structure and higher fibre content in arrowroots. Despite the difference in the cooking time and technique, arrowroots are a more nutritious alternative to potatoes… I apologise to all the ‘waru’ lovers out there.

How to purchase Arrowroots

When purchasing arrowroots, look for those that don’t have too many holes in them. The more the holes, the more they are prone to rot. I’d recommend that you tell the person selling them to chop a thin slice off one end (do the same when purchasing sweet potatoes). They should either be white in colour with pink patches or white with purplish streaks on them. The colour varies depending on the breed. It should be firm when you press your finger into the tuber. If it is grey in colour, then the arrowroot is not fresh. If you can press the tuber and it feels ‘ripe’, then it is not fresh.

I don’t know how to tell an arrowroot will taste good by just looking at it. A lot of factors can change the taste of the arrowroot, such as the place it was grown, the soil used, whether the farmer used manure or fertiliser etc. I trust the ones we get from my father’s farm in Karatina (p.s. he sells them commercially) as he uses manure and makes sure that he only sells the best parts. We end up getting the ones that aren’t of selling standard. But who’s complaining! Those arrowroots are really tasty!

The danger of buying arrowroots anywhere in Nairobi is that you risk the chance of purchasing some that have been grown in dirty water, which ends up compromising the quality of the arrowroot (and your healthy). Supermarket prices are higher than Marikiti prices (an open-air farm produce market within Nairobi) but the quality may be better. My father’s arrowroots go for Kshs. 150 per Kg. Other alternatives are buying them when you go to upcountry. Just don’t randomly buy arrowroots from people in the streets. You may end up eating sewer-planted tubers!

How to store arrowroots

They are tubers, hence store them in a wrong way and they’ll go bad very fast. First of all, ensure that you store them away from direct sunlight or they will ‘rippen’. Do not also store them in a polythene bag, as they will get spoilt even faster. You could either keep them in an open space for up to 3 days or store them in the fridge for up to 10 days. If you’d like to keep them longer, I suggest you boil them and store them in the fridge. They can last for 2 weeks in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer!

The variety my parents grow easily goes bad when left for more than 3 days on the counter hence, I store mine in the fridge immediately I get my batch. I should mention they end up getting soggy and develop moulds if left in the fridge for too long… this will also happen if you store them in a moisture-prone area in your house, like under your kitchen sink.

How to prepare them

Arrowroots are generally muddy and most people prefer washing them before peeling. If you’re in that category, please ensure that the arrowroots are somewhat dry before you start peeling them.

Then there’s another category of people who prefer peeling one at a time and placing them in water, the way we do with potatoes to prevent them from staining. Potatoes are way different from arrowroots in that they don’t react much with water. Arrowroots, on the other hand, have a component in them that irritates the skin when combined with water. I generally wash my arrowroots all at once after I’ve peeled them and I do this when I’m planning to make arrowroot stew. I stop washing them when the water stops being cloudy, which is usually after 3 washes.

There is a third category of people (like me) who don’t find it necessary to peel the arrowroots if they are for the purpose of consuming them boiled. I simply wash the mud off and prep them for boiling. Peeling them when cooked becomes such an easy task! 

What to do with arrowroots

I treat arrowroots the way I’d treat potatoes with regards to cooking. You can boil them, fry them, bake them, roast them or even stew them. It’s up to you to decide what to do with them. I will share a couple of recipes on how to prepare them.

I, therefore, make boiled arrowroots, arrowroot stew, mashed arrowroots, arrowroot chips and crisps, arrowroot meatballs, pan-fried arrowroots and I’m currently trying out an arrowroot gratin recipe :-D! Unlike potatoes,  arrowroots have got a rich taste and the richness of the taste is accentuated depending on how you prepare them.

Boiled Arrowroots

Having arrowroots in the morning is a good way to start your day and is an amazing alternative to bread for gluten-free people and the complex starch make it a suitable breakfast choice for everyone regardless of their dietary needs.

When boiled, you could have them with your beverage of choice. Alternatively, you could cut them up into small pieces and add them to your vegetable salad or to your minced beef stew. It goes pretty well with some tasty minced meat stew.

A thing to note about boiling arrowroots is that they get done faster when you don’t completely submerge them with water. It also prevents them from turning soggy. The secret is to pour water half the level of the arrowroots. Those above the surface of the water get done by steam while those below get done by the temperature of the water.

Please be careful while handling boiling arrowroots, the steam can cause a lot of harm, especially when you’re pouring out the excess water once they are done. I once burned three of my fingers with the steam from the pot while removing the lid to check whether they were done and it took me 3 weeks to completely get well.

Leaving them to boil for too long with turn them into mush and to prevent this from happening, just reduce the heat once they start boiling. This ensures that the temperature is hot enough to allow them to cook at a steady rate but not too hot that they overcook. The temperature of the water will remain the same once it reaches its boiling point. Just save your fuel by reducing the heat and allowing them to get done over low heat. The same principle works well when boiling legumes. The total cooking time should be about 45 minutes. You will know they are done when a butter knife easily pierces the arrowroot at the centre or when cracks start forming on some of the tubers.

If you like your arrowroots firm, don’t leave them in water once they are done. Remove and place them on a tray to cool before peeling them. Peeling them before you boil is not only a waste of your energy and time but also a waste of your arrowroot. You’ll still end up peeling off the oxidised coat that forms on the peeled arrowroots once they’ve cooled.Washing them well to remove all the excess mud before boiling is all you need to do.

You can keep them on your counter for 3 days before they start hardening. You could store them in a ziplock in your fridge for 2 weeks or freeze them up for 3 months.

When you want to eat them, just remove a couple from the bag and heat in a microwave.

This article was first written on 25th April,2018

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