I read this Organic Gardening article about farming in Kauai, and the most interesting part to me was the information on taro. The taro root serves a similar position to the potato in Hawaiian cuisine. In Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, he describes how there were hundreds of different varieties of potatoes created to adapt to the many different growing conditions in Peru. There were also hundreds of taro varieties created in Hawaii for different environments. A disturbing trend that’s mentioned in the Organic Gardening story is how the many varieties of taro have been supplanted by only one high-yielding modern hybrid. This taro variety produces more, but it needs a lot of fertilization. The problem is that, just as with the potato, this lost of genetic diversity could lead to a wipespread wipeout of the main foodcrop. In addition to disease resistance, there’s also probably a loss of the many different flavors among the hundreds of varieties of potatoes and taro.
Although the only use of fermented potatoes I could quickly find is in the production of vodka, many Hawaiian natives prefer fermented taro. The article has a vivid description of 2-week old poi (mashed taro) with a fuzzy layer of white mold on top which is stirred into the poi. This fermentation provides a source of beneficial bacteria to the Hawaiian diet. I wonder why potatoes aren’t fermented for probiotic reasons.