Cocoyam is known by different Nigerian ethnic groups by different names. In Igbo, it is Ede or akasi; in Hausa it is gwazo and in Yoruba it is called ishu koko. It goes by the botanical name, Colocasia esculenta and is most commonly grown for its starchy edible root. Cocoyam has various species and is generally comprised of a large spherical corm (swollen underground storage stem), from which a few large leaves emerge. The petioles of the leaves stand erect and can grow to lengths of upwards of 1 metre (3.3 ft). The leaf blades are large and heart-shaped and can reach 50 cm (15.8 in) in length.
The corm produces lateral buds which give rise to tubers also called cormels and suckers or stolons. Cocoyams are perennials though they are often grown as annuals and harvested after one season.
It is mostly cultivated in countries like Nigeria, Asia, Pacific Island, Ghana and Japan. Cocoyam grows best in fertile, well-draining, sandy loam soil with a pH between 4.2–7.5. It can be grown in a wide variety of conditions. Cocoyam is vegetatively propagated from headsetts (“tops”) or suckers which establish quickly and give the highest rate of survival. Larger headsetts and suckers tend to produce larger corms and bigger yields but the size of the planting material may be determined by the particular cultivar being grown e.g. some varieties of cocoyam will produce two heads from the same corm if the sucker that is planted is too big and therefore medium sized suckers are selected when growing tubers for export. It is advised that headsetts and suckers should only be taken from healthy plants in order to protect yields and prevent the spread of diseases.
Cocoyam is planted in such a way as to encourage sucker growth e.g. the use of larger plant spacing and shallow planting depths. The planting material (sucker or headsett) is set in furrows or ridges and plant spacing can be anywhere between 30 to 100 cm (11.8–39.4 in) between plants depending on the prevailing soil and climatic conditions.
Cocoyam is planted in the rainy season, in the months of May and June. This is because it requires more moisture to germinate. Harvest for cocoyam begins in late September and ends around January, just before the dry season becomes too hot.
Cocoyam, like yam, can be stored for several months and it will still retain its taste, nutritional value and quality. It is best stored in a cool, dry and well ventilated place. Most times they are stored on raised racks because the bare floor causes them to rot.
Cocoyam is consumed after boiling, frying or roasting. It is such a versatile staple that can also be used as weaning food, while the leaves can be cooked as vegetable.
The corms can be dried and used to make flour or sliced and fried to make chips. It can also be applied to dishes in combination with other foods especially those in the beans family. It is a root vegetable and its corms, leaves and petioles are all edible and nutritious. Nutritionists say that the cocoyam contains digestible starch; protein and other valuable nutrients. They add that the leaves are usually consumed as a vegetable after cooking in dishes such as stews. Cocoyam Xanthosoma species produce tubers much like potato and are boiled, baked, steamed or fried prior to consumption.
Cocoyam is widely consumed all over Nigeria and is said to suit a variety of people on special diet depending on the manner of preparation and combinations. For instance, when boiled, cocoyam is said to be of high glycaemic index and should be combined with low glycaemic index food for it to be suitable for diabetics.
Nutritional value of cocoyam
Proximate nutrition composition of cocoyam were in the range of:
65 – 78% (moisture)
2 – 5 % (ash)
0.2 – 1.10% (fat)
2 – 5% (fibre)
14 – 23% (carbohydrates)
390 – 460 mg/100g (potassium)
24 – 43 mg/100g (calcium)
79 – 91 k/cal (energy)
0.3 – 4.8% (protein)
79 – 110 mg/100g (magnesium)
Vitamins A, C, E, & B6,
There are varieties or species of cocoyam but the most common in this clime are the soft variety used mainly as soup thickeners and the yam-like variety that can be boiled in a short time and eaten in a variety of ways.
The soft variety is used mainly as a thickener in some Nigerian (Igbo) soup recipes which include Onugbu (bitterleaf) and Ora/Oha soups. The only difference between Ora and Bitterleaf Soups is the vegetables used in preparing them. They however taste so differently.
Wash the cocoyam thoroughly and place in a pot without peeling. Boil until it is cooked. Put the pot down and allow to cool off a bit.
Use a knife to scale off the back.
Serve with palm oil, yaji or any sauce.
Traditionally, this is done in the fire place with firewood or charcoal. The cocoyam is not peeled or washed using this method. When it is cooked, the back is carefully scaled off and served with palm oil sauce – palm oil with local spices and ukpaka.
For the modern time, the grill or oven can be used. In this case, the cocoyam is peeled and washed before placing in the grill or oven.
This can also be eaten with roasted/fried groundnuts/ peanuts.
Bring the peeled cocoyam to boil until cooked. Place in a mortar and pound into foofoo or use an electric yam pounder. Serve with any choice soup.
Cocoyam flour is made by peeling, then par boiling fresh cocoyam corm/ root for upwards of 50°C for 3 hours. It is then steeped for about 24 hours and dried at 50°C for 8 hours or under the sun before milling into flour.
The flour can be made into foofoo. It can be applied to pastries and cookies.
The cocoyam is cooked, cut into thin chips and dried in the sun. The resulting flakes are later soaked in water and cooked with vegetables or blended and prepared as pudding (moimoi). They can also be prepared with local beans (fiofio).
Nigerian Ekpang Nkukwo
In this meal, both the corms and the leaves of the cocoyam are used as ingredients.
Red Cocoyam pottage
Handful Smoked Shrimp
Pepper or hot spice