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The Red Chinese mulberry tree is a broad, spreading bush or small tree dotted with small thorns. Like its mulberry relatives, the fruits are technically not a berries but rather aggregates of tiny fleshy drupes clustered around a single stem
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The surface of the Yatsugashira taro is mottled dark brown in color and covered in a layer of fuzzy hairs. The meat has bright creamy white to beige color and is solid and smooth with a slightly sweet flavor. The texture is similar to that of the meat of chestnuts and is much less slimy than other varieties of taro.
Yatsugashira taros are available in winter and the early spring.
Yatsugashira taros are a member of the Araceae family. Yatsugashira translates to eight heads, a namesake which is a result of its knobby resemblance of that of eight heads lumped together.
The Yatsugashira taro is an excellent source of potassium and is more nutritious compared to other varieties of taro. They contain more calories than other taros as result of its higher sugar content, however it is also richer in vitamin E, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. A recent study also suggested that eating taros can help lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
Yatsugashira taros are often cooked in the popular simmered Japanese dish known as Nimono. They are also commonly added to miso soups. Choose Yatsugashira taros that are plump with few scratches on the surface. When picking a taro avoid getting those that are soft and light or that smell of mold. To store the taro wrap in newspaper without washing and keep in a cool dark place with good ventilation until ready to use.
The shape of the Yatsugashira taro resembles the number eight in Kanji character which looks like an open fan spreading. This is viewed as a representation of a growing family thus the significance of Yatsugashira taros is fertility. A rare and expensive taro in Japan, they are commonly used in Osechi Ryori (Japanese traditional New Year's food) to bring prosperity to a family in the coming year.
Yatsugashira taros are mainly grown in Chiba prefecture and Ibaragi prefecture. Although taros lost their popularity after arrival of potatoes and sweet potatoes from outside of Japan during the Edo period, Japanese people have been eating taros since the Jomon period (13000 BC).