Topi Tambo, Leren, Guinea Arrowroot

by Green Deane

in Greens/Pot Herb, Plants, Protein Plant source, Roots/Tubers/Corms, Vegetable

Topi Tambo, Gourmet Food Waiting To Be Discovered

A lifetime ago off the Maine coast at low tide there were many mussel shoals. The vertical tidal change near the rock-bound coast can be measured in several yards. At low tide you could “walk” off shore to many of the islands. That required slogging through smelly mud-broken-by-mussel beds, a mudless place to rest.

Mussel Shoal of Maine Coast

The best plan was to walk to an island at low tide on a Saturday afternoon, spend the night on the island as the tide came in, and then head back to the mainland the next afternoon at the low tide. We boys would build a fire, scavenge the shore for edibles including little crabs, trapped fish, clams and a few mussels. A traditional clambake followed using hot rocks and seaweed. We kept the fire going all night and slept in its glow. Do that today and several laws would have been broken and half the child protective service department would swarming over the place. We all know the headlines: CHILDREN ABANDONED ON ISLAND… video of my negligent mother being arrested at 11. Law suits would follow. Custody hearings et cetera … However, in hindsight what was special were the mussels.

Mussels Near Brunswick Maine

They were very abundant and extremely easy to harvest. Other seafood took top billing but when the seaweed-covered rocks produced few crabs, into the fire pit went the mussels. Empty tummies must be fed. Normally the mussels weren’t eaten by most who thought themselves to be above eating the lowly bivalve. But go into a gourmet restaurant today and what’s on the menu? Mussels. And someday those same restaurants are going to discover Topi Tambo, a gourmet food only subsistence farmers still eat.

As mussels once were, one wonders why Topi Tambo has not been discovered by palate pioneers. The tubers when boiled remain crisp and have the flavor of sweet corn. Salting them increases their taste substantially. They can rival any hors d’oeuvres, make an excellent side dish or main entree. The leaves can be used to wrap food to give the food flavor and the young flower clusters are edible cooked.

Topi Tambo is harvested in the warm winter months

The only time of the year when the Topi Tambo shine is at Christmas when they are a traditional dish, though they are also sometime served on other religious holidays. They are boiled, peeled, salted and enjoyed. However, it is better to grow your own. In early 2012 they were selling for about $13 a pound. Imagine their cost when the gourmet markets find them. Exported to nearly every tropical region in the world, the little spuds have never taken off as a commercial crop despite their great gastronomic credentials.

Flowers Cooked Are Edible

Botanically Topi Tambo are Calathea allouia. Calathea (kal-ATH-ee-um) means basket shaped, referring to the flower. Allouia (al-LOU-ee-ah) is what the Carib Indians called the plant. Leren is the Spanish term for the species,who wrote about it in 1562 and 1627. Other names include: Sweet corn root, touple nambours, alléluia, curcuma d’Amérique, dale dale, agua bendita, cocurito, lerenes, tambu, topinambur, topeetampo, topinambour, ariá, and láirem

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Tipo Timbo

IDENTIFICATION: Calathea allouia: A herbaceous plant to three feet, ovoid or cylindrical, tuberous roots. Opposite elliptical leaves, to eight inches, grooved petioles. Flowers — greenish to yellow to white — are tubular in racemes. The plants bloom from June to August.

TIME OF YEAR: Perennial. Takes nine month to set a crop.

ENVIROMENT: Full sun, ample water, high humidity, good soil but well drained. Does not like sand. Can tolerate temperatures down to 21º F.

METHOD OF PREPRATION: Tubers are boiled 15 to 30 minutes. They can be peeled then, or, the entire tuber can be put in the mouth and the skin removed and spit out. It is not edible. Flowers can be boiled. The tubers are about 7% protein and 15% carbohydrates.  Raw at room temperature they can be stored for three months. Refrigeration raw shortens their quality quickly. A tincture made from the leaves is diuretic.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Carroll Lee May 9, 2017 at 10:13

I was able to purchase from Montoso Gardens in Puerto Rico with shipping to the US . You have to contact the owner directly via the contact us link and make arrangements.


Krishna February 6, 2016 at 12:13

Do you know of a way to mechanically peel them after boiling?


alex January 22, 2017 at 13:13

come on man that is high class laziness


ROOPA RAMANAND June 15, 2013 at 17:16


i live in Florida and i am interested n the plant where can i get it!


Green Deane June 15, 2013 at 18:24

Look up Andy Firk on facebook. He has some and does sell plants.


Amelia Warner October 27, 2016 at 14:42

I live in Florida and cannot find the plant to buy.


Tim Armstrong June 15, 2017 at 22:58

We sell them in Jacksonville fl


Kamal Corbin January 10, 2017 at 17:45

If you can find the topi Rambo plants I would love to get some


Tracy May 22, 2013 at 13:48

Where can I get this plant to buy ?


Racheal May 14, 2013 at 20:40

I haven’t had this in almost 15 years, but I can never forget the smell of pot of boiling tippi tambo and its distinct taste.


Angela April 9, 2013 at 22:37

Hello i’m trying to find the Topi Tambo plant in Florida. Any assistance will be greatly appreciated..thanks so much!


Helen February 18, 2013 at 15:03

I bought some from Puerto Rico last year. They died back for winter. I just tried a small one. I peeled before microwaving in salted water. Very good! Thanks for turning me on to them!


Utalda Ha July 19, 2012 at 00:49

I lived in Texas and I want to grow the topi tambo plant here. Since you know so much about this plant and see it, can you get it and sell it to me?


Harry August 28, 2012 at 20:39

Hi Utalda,

Did you get any of the Topi Tambo? I live in San Antonio, I think it’ll grow well here.



fiza March 2, 2013 at 20:35

Did you get the Topi Tambo plant or seed? If yes, where did you get it?


Lou Sykora June 11, 2012 at 12:46

First, thank you for all the tons of quality information you have provided. If I was an acient Greek, I’d make a small little Green Dean statue and put it on some white building…..

question for you, are they any easy natural substitutes for baking soda? If you where in the “bush” and had to make some taste bread like morsel, and wanted to include a flour from say cattails, sugar derived from reeds, and salt from… where ever…. what about baking soda?

Thanks again…


Green Deane June 13, 2012 at 07:58

There is no substitutes for baking soda or baking powder. Their job is to interact with acid in a mix to make carbon dioxide bubble to the bread, cake, or cookie et cetera will be lighter, fluffier.


Sandhillpam March 20, 2012 at 08:52

Sounds good! Where do you find it?


Green Deane March 20, 2012 at 12:02

Ethnic markets.


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