Taro Burgers On The Garden Isle

“When I moved to Hawaii in 1992, my first job was catering for a Green Peace retreat center in Waipio Valley on the Big Island,” says Dave McEntee, owner of Bruddah Dave’s Taro Burgers. “My neighbor said, ‘You know, your front yard was an ancient lo’i that was farmed for more than 2,000 years.'”

McEntee looked across the yard that was filled with 15-foot-high Job’s Tears, a grain-bearing tropical plant, and decided to restore the taro patch. The mile-wide valley is surrounded by 2,000-foot cliffs and home to wild horses. McEntee fenced in the ancient paddies, lured in the wild horses and closed the fence.

“They ate it all down to the ground and fertilized it for me!” McEntee says, then laughs.

After farming taro for 20 years – eight of those on Kaua’i – McEntee yearned to spend more time with his 11-year-old son Makaiao. He hung up his rubber boots and created a taro burger made solely of GMO-free taro and seasonings.

“There is no GMO taro,” explains McEntee. “Hawaiians feel they are genetically related to taro, and they felt it was wrong to mess with taro’s DNA. They fought and won a 10-year ban on genetically modifying taro.”

Act 211, passed by the 2008 Hawai’i Legislature, established the Taro Security and Purity Task Force. A 2010 legislative report defines taro purity, in part, to be “no genetically engineered (GE/GMO) taro; purity is that which occurs naturally within the cells and mitochondria of a taro plant … ”

McEntee buys his taro from Hobbey Beck, who with Bino Fitsgerald started Hanalei Poi Co. Beck grows Maui Lehua and Palau taro varieties.

“I’m super happy to be working with taro,” says McEntee. “I’ve loved it since the first time I’ve had it. Tourists don’t like poi, and I think that’s a shame.”

I agree. In 2010, I helped the Waipa ‘Ohana make poi. Every week, I’d watch the sun rise over the valley and peel skin off boiled corms. I grew fond of the people and the mildly sweet taste of fresh poi. Today, whenever I need comfort or have an irritated tummy, I reach for taro in any form.

Taro is highly digestible, and very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. It also is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), vitamin B6 and manganese. As an alkali-producing food, it helps to balance the pH factor in the body.

Nowadays, I simply put a frozen Bruddah Dave’s Taro Burger in a preheated pan with a tablespoon of oil and cook it for about three minutes on each side. This burger is 100-percent taro – there are no binders. The burger is squishy soft, so you’ll want to eat in on soft bread. Passion Bakery’s taro buns are perfect, along with crispy lettuce, fresh avocado and juicy tomatoes.

Bruddah Dave’s Taro Burger come in six-packs and two-packs, and can be found in the frozen food sections at Harvest Market, Healthy Hut, Hoku Foods Natural Market, and Papaya’s Natural Foods and Cafe. They’re also available at North Shore General Store, Namahana Cafe, The Garden Cafe and Java Kai in Kapa’a.

“I wanted to do something for the Hawaiian culture and the taro,” says McEntee. “I thought if I created a value-added product, it would help the taro industry which, in turn, would help the Hawaiian culture.”

Bruddah Dave’s Taro Burgers

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.