According to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, malanga goes by many other names, including “…yautia, cocoyam, eddo, coco, tannia, sato-imo, and Japanese potatoes.” The scientific name for malanga is Xantyosoma sagittifolium, but it is more commonly known as the elephant ear plant.
In this article, we take a look at malanga, examining its nutritional content, possible health benefits, and how to include this root vegetable in a diet.
What is malanga?
Malanga is a type of root vegetable grown in the Caribbean. The part of the plant that is eaten is the tuber, similar to a potato.
Malanga originated in South America, but it is now grown in the Caribbean, Central America, and certain parts of Africa and Asia.
It is sometimes confused with other tropical root vegetables, such as taro. The two plants have subtle differences in their structures. The malanga plant has sizeable leaves and may grow to be more than 5 feet tall.
The part of the malanga plant that is eaten is known as a tuber. The tubers grow underground and are similar in size to a potato. People should remove the brown, hairy skin of the tubers before eating them.
The flesh of the malanga root is light-colored and can be prepared using a variety of cooking methods, such as baking, frying, and stewing. Malanga can also be ground to make flour for baking.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 1/3 cup cooked malanga provides the following:
- 70 kilocalories
- 0.1 g of fat
- 16 g of carbohydrate
- 1 g of protein
The same amount provides 3 g of fiber, which is 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber for adults.
Regarding vitamins and minerals, 1/3 cup cooked malanga provides the following proportions of daily recommended amounts:
- potassium: 9 percent
- phosphorus: 5 percent
- magnesium: 5 percent
It also contains smaller amounts of vitamin C, calcium, iron, and folate.
Possible health benefits
There have not been many studies specifically looking at the health benefits of malanga. One study in rats did report that malanga may be a source of antioxidants.
However, malanga contains many components that have been associated with health benefits.
While it is usually the root of the malanga plant that is eaten, one study looked at the benefits of consuming fiber from malanga leaves.
The leaves contain a type of fiber called insoluble fiber. This type of fiber has been associated with an improved digestive function, lower risk of colon cancer, and healthier weight.
In contrast, soluble fiber is mainly associated with blood pressure and cholesterol improvements.
All of the rats in the study were fed a high-fat diet, but some of the rats also received varying types of dietary fiber. At the end of the study, the rats that ate the malanga leaf had significantly lower total cholesterol levels than the other rats, despite the malanga containing mainly insoluble fiber.
The malanga root itself is also a good source of fiber. As mentioned above, 1/3 cup of cooked malanga contains 10 percent of an adult’s daily recommended amount of fiber.
A review of studies found that eating more fiber is associated with significantly lower total and LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Since high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, eating more fiber may help protect against heart disease.
Besides its effects on blood cholesterol levels, dietary fiber may also play a role in weight management. This is important because obesity is a risk factor for many chronic diseases.
In the same study mentioned above, rats in the malanga leaf group gained less weight than the other groups.
A review of studies found that a diet higher in fiber may help prevent weight gain. Adding malanga to a diet is one way to increase fiber intake.
A 1/3 cup serving of cooked malanga provides 320 milligrams (mg) of potassium. Some studies have reported that there is an association between dietary potassium intake and blood pressure.
In one study, higher potassium intake was associated with a significantly lower risk of high blood pressure. This is important because high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Potassium relaxes blood vessels, which lessens the work required by the heart to pump blood through the body.
How to incorporate malanga into a diet
Malanga can be used to replace potato and may be included in a variety of dishes, including stews.
There are many ways to include malanga into a diet. Malanga is available in many Latin American grocery stores, as well as some supermarket chains.
The vegetable needs to be washed, peeled and cooked before being eaten. People should not eat malanga raw.
Malanga has a similar texture as potatoes and can replace potatoes in many recipes. Malanga flour can also be used to replace wheat flour in baked goods.
Malanga is described as having a woody or earthy taste with a hint of nuts.
Boiled malanga can be mashed with milk and olive oil to make a tasty side dish. It is a natural thickener and can be added to soups and stews.
See below for recipes that use malanga:
- carrot soup with malanga
- Dominican pork and root vegetable stew
- malanga, black bean, and pepper salad
- baked malanga root chips
Malanga is likely safe for most people, except for those who are allergic to it or have certain medical conditions.
In general, malanga is considered a well-tolerated food that is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.
A 1/3 cup serving of cooked malanga has 320 mg of potassium. According to the National Kidney Foundation, foods that contain more than 200 mg of potassium per serving are considered high potassium.
Some people with kidney disease or those who take certain medications may need to limit high-potassium foods. Having too much potassium in the blood can cause dangerous side effects, such as abnormal heart rhythm and weakness.
Anyone who is concerned should check with their doctor to see if they need to limit potassium in their diet.
Overall, malanga provides many useful nutrients. Some of these nutrients may offer health benefits when included as part of a healthful diet.
Malanga is well-known in many parts of the world but not commonly eaten in others. As interest in regional cuisines grows, malanga may become even more widely available.
Although not a familiar taste for some, it is a versatile root vegetable that can be used in many recipes.