Tubers are underground plant stems that swell to store nutrients for next season's growth. The mature tubers are dug from the ground and cleaned of soil to store or prepare as food. They are capable of producing complete new plants from a part of the tuber. One of the most familiar tuber vegetables is the potato, but many kinds of tuber vegetables are used all over the world for starch and carbohydrates. Besides potatoes, edible tubers include taro or malanga, artichokes, yams, ginger, jicama and cushcush.
Taro, also known as malanga and cocoyam, is a large tube that grows foliage resembling elephant's ears. It is grown throughout the tropics and is considered a tropical vegetable in Florida. Taro requires adequate moisture and good drainage to grow well. The harvested tubers are larger than potatoes and require refrigeration for long storage, unlike dry potatoes. Taro is prepared for eating by baking, mashing, frying or boiling in a variety of dishes.
Ginger is commonly used as a spice and flavoring agent for both sweet and savory dishes, and it also has medicinal uses. True ginger is grown as an edible crop, although there are ornamental varieties. It is propagated from rhizome cuttings rather than by seed. Foliage grows in green spikes with slim cylindrical leaves in partial shade and produces plump underground rhizomes or tubers that are harvested for their spicy, aromatic flesh. Ginger is used fresh or dried; in shredded or powdered form to bake spiced cakes, cookies and candies; is made into teas; and is used to cook meats and vegetables.
Jicama is a climbing legume that produces large, plump tuberous roots. Jicama tubers can grow up to 8 feet long in a five-month growing season. The starchy root of the jicama vine is eaten raw or cooked, with a crisp fresh taste like apples and water chestnuts. It is a popular vegetable in Mexico, where it is prepared in many ways and eaten with liberal spices. As a tropical plant, Jicama grows best in tropical and southern temperate climates, requiring five to nine months to produce very large roots.
Cushcush is a tropical perennial vine that grows from edible tubers. It needs a long, warm growing season and is not frost-hardy. Cushcush requires almost a year to produce harvestable tubers. Cushcush needs an early start with heated hoop houses or cold frames in northern climates. The vines are strong growers and need strong supports. The flesh of harvested tubers is white, yellow or purple, and the tuber is eaten boiled, mashed and baked.
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