Food plants of Micronesia

The ethnobotany class visited the Island Food Community of Pohnpei on the 23rd of February.

Island Food Community has an overall campaign slogan of “Let’s Go Local”.

The following information is adapted from their web site.

Why should we go local? The answer is that locally grown foods have many “CHEEF” benefits. A greater production and consumption of locally grown Pohnpei island food would lead to important benefits including improved health, income generation, savings, food security, and preservation of Pohnpeian culture.

Culture: Food is a basic part of our culture. When we promote our island foods, we are also promoting the traditional Pohnpei farming system, which includes mixed cropping in the agroforest production system.

Health: Consuming island foods provides protection against many nutritionally-related diseases including: diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, vitamin A deficiency, and anemia. For optimum health it is important to follow healthy lifestyles with sufficient exercise; avoiding tobacco, betel nut, and alcohol; drinking sufficient water; and avoiding excesses of fat, sugar, and salt-containing foods.

Yellow-fleshed banana varieties like Utin Iap, Utimwas, Karat, Mangat, Ihpali, Iemwahn,Utiak, Karat en Iap, Taiwang, Peleu, Akadahn, Akadahn Weitahta, Kudud, and Utin Kerenis, and yellow-fleshed varieties of giant swamp taro like Smihden, Mwahng Medel, Mwahng Tekatek Weitahta, yellow-fleshed Mei Kole breadfruit, and deep yellow-colored pandanus are particularly nutrient-rich in provitamin A carotenoids, the substances that are changed into vitamin A in the body. But even the white-fleshed contain more of these than rice, which contains…. NONE!!

Some of the varieties are particularly rich with vitamins and minerals. Karat contains significant levels of riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (another B vitamin), and alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E). Smihden and other giant swamp taro contain valuable amounts of the essential minerals zinc, iron, and calcium.

Environment: Locally grown food has a smaller overall environmental impact than imported food. Bringing in food by boat requires the burning of fossil fuels. Imported foods are also produced at a high cost in terms of energy and come in extensive packaging. 

Economics: Presently large sums of money are being spent annually by Pohnpeians on imported foods, which often could be replaced by a locally grown food or food product. There is also the potential for developing niche crop products for Pohnpei island foods for the local or export market. Money spent on  local foods goes to local farmers. 

Food security: Food security refers to having sufficient nutrient-rich food to provide good health. We need to do something to help reverse the trend towards consumption of imported food and to make use of the locally grown island foods that we have.

Imported foods depend on supply and demand in the global marketplace. In addition, imported food is brought in by boat. If the boat does not come, then the island is without food. Local food would become critical in sustaining the population during a time of global food shortage, transportation difficulties, or in the wake of damage to the port.

On 01 March the class presented local plant foods of Micronesia in class.

Banana-coconut balls are known as cheol'geoy on main island Yap, ningermes in the outer islands of Yap, and uter in uht on Pohnpei. A combination of banana coconut, the balls are a favorite snack food of children and adults alike. In the outer islands the banana balls are often prepared in advance of the return of men out fishing, providing them with a quick energy food on their return.

The Kosraeans also make banana balls and hard taro with coconut balls, but they add refined sugar to theirs.

Uht sukusuk is a favorite food across Micronesia - pounded banana with coconut milk (piahia) on top. 

Along with the uht sukusuk the Kitti based group brought sashimi reef fish, a can of tuna (!), menioak umw (also known as kehp tuhkoa; manioc - tapioca, cassava baked in a pile of hot rocks).

Rosalina Harris explains the production of uht doamwdoamw. Doamwdoamw is to work something between your hands. The dish is effectively a banana dumpling. The banana is ground, formed into a dumpling in the hands, and then boiled. Coconut milk is added to the top. 

The dish is known out in Kitti as Toamwoaroahlong Kung-Fu because it causes the children of Toamoaroahlong to become active, as in hyperactive, as a result of enjoying the food.
As with many words, doamwdoamw is a double entendre and carries other connotations involving working objects with the hands.

Koroipali is made by scooping out half of a banana lengthwise, grinding was is scooped out, mixing with coconut, and packing the ground mixture back into the "banana boat." The result is then cooked.

The Pingalapese prepare a food called wis idihd - ground banana cooked down with sugar and covered with coconut milk.

Kosraean foods are possibly best known in their fahfahs - various combinations of pounded soft taros. The above is fahfah fiti covered in el, a cooked down, carmelized coconut milk sauce. 

Hard (swamp) taro is a staple of many island groups. Above the taro is boiled and covered in coconut milk. 

After the presentations everyone enjoys tasting the different dishes. Being a uniquely Micronesian institution, some students brought their children with them for the class today.


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