People have farmed malanga, a root vegetable, for longer than they have farmed many other plants. It currently grows in South and Central America, Africa, South East Asia, the Pacific Islands, and New Zealand.

In the United States, malanga grows in Florida, where experts consider it an invasive species.

Originally a rainforest species, malanga grows well in a wet and humid environment. It is a fast growing herbaceous plant.

Other names for it include cocoyam, yautia, tannia, taro, and tanier. In fact, experts say that there are 50–60 different types of Xanthosoma, and the names cocoyam and taro may refer to species that are similar to but not identical to malanga.

People also cultivate malanga, or Xanthosoma sagittifolium, for its tubers. These are high in starch.

Edible tubers, or cormels, form in the soil at the base of the plant. A large central tuber (corm) develops, with a cluster of cormels. These cormels are grayish brown to black lateral tubers, and they form around the corm. A tuber is a bulky storage part of the root.

Some people also eat the leaves.

Malanga is a versatile vegetable, and it is easy to grow. For this reason, experts believe that it could play a role in providing a sustainable source of food in areas where food may be scarce.

In this article, we take a look at malanga, its nutritional content, possible health benefits, and how to include it in the diet.

Malanga root vegetable chopped up on wooden background.Share on Pinterest
The fiber in malanga may help improve cholesterol levels.

Malanga probably first grew in the tropical rainforests of South America. However, people took it to other areas to cultivate it. In time, it spread from these areas, and it now grows wild in many places.

The malanga plant has sizeable leaves and may grow up to 2 meters (6 feet) tall.

The part that people mainly eat is the 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. People can use a variety of cooking methods to prepare it, such as baking, frying, and stewing. Some people also grind malanga to make flour for baking.

Learn about another healthful vegetable called moringa here.

The nutrients in malanga may benefit the following aspects of a person's health.

Cholesterol

People usually eat the tuber of the malanga plant. A cup of boiled malanga can provide over 7 grams (g) of fiber, depending on the type of malanga.

Also, the authors of a 2013 rodent study found that the leaves of taioba, which is one type of malanga, are rich in fiber.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 suggest that adults consume around 28–33.6 g of fiber each day, depending on their age and sex.

Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that a high fiber diet can improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In the 2013 study mentioned above, rats consumed different types of high fat diet. Those that ate the malanga leaf alongside fatty foods had significantly lower levels of total cholesterol than the others. This suggests that the fiber contained within malanga can help manage cholesterol levels.

Why do we need dietary fiber? Learn more here.

Weight and diabetes

Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and many other conditions.

However, dietary fiber may play a role in managing both weight and type 2 diabetes.

In the 2013 rodent study, the rats that consumed malanga with their high fat diet gained less weight than those that did not. This may be due to the fiber content.

A 2012 review of studies also found that a high fiber diet may help prevent weight gain. Adding malanga to the diet is one way to increase fiber intake.

Blood pressure

In addition to fiber, a cup of cooked malanga provides 683 milligrams (mg) of potassium.

Some studies have found a link between dietary potassium intake and blood pressure. In 2013, for example, researchers found that people with a higher potassium intake appeared to have 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 reduces the workload of the heart to pump blood through the body.

Why is potassium important? Learn more here.

Antioxidants for overall health

Malanga contains vitamins C and A, which are both antioxidants. Antioxidants are important for helping the body eliminate free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that occur in the body as a result of internal metabolic processes and outside influences, such as smoking and pollution.

If too many free radicals build up in the body, oxidative stress can result. This can lead to cell damage and a range of health concerns.

Antioxidants occur mainly in plant based foods. They appear to help the body eliminate free radicals.

In this way, they can reduce the risk of cancer, Alzheimer's disease, vision loss, and cardiovascular problems.

Learn more about the benefits and sources of antioxidants here.

Not many researchers have looked specifically at the health benefits of malanga.

One rodent study reported that, like many plant based foods, it may be a source of antioxidants.

However, the components in malanga may have many health benefits.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a 142 g cup of boiled dasheen — which is a type of Xanthosoma sagittifolium — provides the following nutrients:

  • 90.1 g of water
  • 200 kilocalories
  • 7.24 g of fiber
  • 0.7 g of protein
  • 0.2 g of fat
  • 48.8 g of carbohydrates, including 0.7 g of sugar
  • 25.6 milligrams (mg) of calcium
  • 1 mg of iron
  • 42.6 mg of magnesium
  • 108 mg of phosphorus
  • 683 mg of potassium
  • 27 micrograms (mcg) of folate
  • 0.5 mg of vitamin B-6
  • 7.1 mg of vitamin C
  • 5.68 mcg of vitamin A
  • 55.4 mcg of beta-carotene

It also contains other essential B vitamins and a range of other minerals.

People often describe the taste of malanga as "woody" or "earthy" with a hint of nuts. Its texture is similar to that of potatoes, and it can replace potatoes in many recipes.

People can also use malanga flour instead of wheat flour in baked goods, and they can add it to soups and stews as a natural thickener.

First, a person must wash the malanga. They can remove the skin before or after cooking, but they should not eat malanga raw.

Some traditional West African ways of preparing malanga include:

  • peeling it and boiling it in water or steaming it, then mashing it, possibly with spices, peppers, or other ingredients
  • serving it with a sauce or stew, either as a side or in a one pot dish
  • boiling it with the skin on and removing the skin before eating it
  • roasting it, then peeling and mashing it
  • peeling, slicing, and frying it in oil to make fries
  • grating it, mixing with it spices, and steaming it for 30 minutes
  • boiling it, mashing it, and adding it to soup as a thickener

When mashing boiled malanga, a person can add milk and olive oil for flavor.

Below are some recipes that use malanga:

Malanga is available in many Latin American grocery stores, as well as some supermarket chains.

Malanga is also available to buy online.

Malanga is rich in potassium. Although most people seem to tolerate the vegetable well, there may be some risks for some people.

For example, having too much potassium in the blood can lead to adverse effects, such as an abnormal heart rhythm and weakness. This affects people with kidney disease and people who take certain medications.

The National Kidney Foundation consider foods with more than 200 mg of potassium per serving to be high in potassium.

Some people with allergies may also wish to avoid malanga.

Anyone who has concerns should check with their doctor to see if they need to limit potassium in their diet.

Overall, malanga provides many useful nutrients, especially when people consume it along with other nutritious ingredients as part of an overall healthful diet.

It is also a versatile vegetable that can play a part in many dishes.

However, like other foods, malanga can only boost a person's health if they consume it as part of a diet that is varied and nutritious overall.

Malanga shows promise as a crop that could help feed a growing global population. As interest in regional cuisines grows, it may also become more popular and widely available in the U.S.