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What is Callaloo?

By Angela Williams Duea
Updated May 16, 2024
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Callaloo, or calaloo, is the name for both a spicy Caribbean soup or stew and the edible leaves of several tropical plants that are used to make the stew. The plants used for this dish are large leafy plants with starchy edible roots, called taro, dasheen, tannia, amaranth, or yautia. Where none of those vegetables are available, some cooks substitute spinach or collard greens. Callaloo recipes, and the use of different types of leaves, vary by region, but the stew always contains some kind of leafy vegetable. Stewed callaloo leaves are eaten as a side dish with many meals or used as a sauce.

This stew was originally made by slaves and emigrants from West Africa. The recipe included native vegetables and okra, which were replaced by plants indigenous to different Caribbean islands. In Trinidad and Tobago, taro leaves are steamed and served as a hot leaf vegetable, as well as used in a callaloo soup. Jamaican cuisine serves it as steamed amaranth leaves or an ingredient in their version of the stew. Puerto Ricans favor tannia or malanga in their stew, while other islands have their own variations.

Recipes for callaloo stew often contain the ingredients salt pork, okra, crabmeat, shrimp, chilies, thyme, cilantro, and garlic. Some versions call for adding chopped root vegetables like yams, yautia, or taro, and green bananas, and individual cooks put in other ingredients they have on hand to give it their own touch. In Trinidad and Tobago, coconut milk is also added to the recipe. The resulting thick, chunky soup is served with fried or sticky dumplings, macaroni pie, pounded yams, boiled green bananas, or rice.

Many varieties of greens used for this dish grow wild in the southern United States, the Caribbean, and tropical Central and South American regions. Jamaican callaloo, or amaranths, are part of a group of ornamental plants that reseed readily from high-quality parent plants and can easily be grown in a backyard garden. Most varieties of the plant require large amounts of water and plentiful sunshine. These plants generally grow large heart- or oval-shaped leaves, so they also require room to spread.

Callaloo leaves have all the nutritional benefits of other leafy green vegetables. They are high in fiber, iron and calcium, and contain large amounts of vitamins A, B, and C, lutein, amino acids, and carotene. While fresh leaves provide the most nutrition, they can also be purchased in cans at specialty or native grocery stores.

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Discussion Comments
By anon342937 — On Jul 25, 2013

What is the nutritional value of Jamaican Callaloo?

By letshearit — On Jun 23, 2011

If you have any allergies always ask your chef what they are putting in the callaloo. I have an allergy to shellfish and didn't know that it was common to add things like shrimp and crab to the soup, even if it isn't noted on a menu.

I was quite surprised by this, but was luckily stopped by eating some as a friend spotted the offending meat before I could dig in.

Often restaurants are really good about removing any ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction in their customers. Just be upfront with the waiter and note any concerns you have.

By wander — On Jun 20, 2011

If you want to make callaloo soup you can modify it very easily so that it is vegetarian friendly. Though, it is still rather high in calories do to the richness of the coconut milk that is usually used to prepare it. I think that using a light coconut milk is a great choice and I find there is no real change in the flavor of the soup.

If I stick to dasheen leaves, bonnet peppers, ochroes, onions, chives and thyme for the bulk of my recipe that my callaloo soup is delicious and healthy.

Does anyone have anything they love putting in callaloo soup that they feel gives it a distinct flavor?

By lighth0se33 — On Jun 20, 2011

I found a great Jamaican recipe for callaloo and saltfish (another word for codfish). The ingredients are callaloo, saltfish, thyme, garlic powder, scotch bonnet pepper, vegetable oil, onion, black pepper, salt, and water.

The process is really simple. First, you wash the callaloo leaves. Then, you cut them up in pieces. Next, you sauté the saltfish with the onion, pepper, garlic, and thyme in the vegetable oil. Then, you add the chopped leaves with the water and stir.

Cover the pan and cook everything until the callaloo leaves become tender. Next, add the whole scotch bonnet pepper. Sprinkle everything with salt and pepper and simmer.

When you are ready to serve the callaloo and saltfish, offer it with a side dish of fried dumplings, a boiled banana, or an avocado pear.

By seafoam — On Jun 20, 2011

Callaloo grows well in Florida and even though it is normally used in Caribbean food, it cooks down like spinach and can be used in a lot of recipes that call for greens.

I love the fact that callaloo's easy to grow in poor soil. We have sandy soil here so we compost and then add the good stuff to our veggie garden. We do have to keep it watered really well, though.

I like adding it to stews and soups because it's high in calcium and protein as well as Vitamin C.

By Jester39 — On Jun 20, 2011

One of my neighbors who is from Trinidad invited us over for dinner one evening. She served callaloo soup in bowls she made from coconut halves. It was really delicious but extremely spicy. I had never heard of a callaloo vegetable before.

My husband and I were glad she served a tropical frozen drink and also fried plantains to go along with the xallaloo to cool off our tongues! The bread she served was more like a zucchini, coconut, carrot cake. I have no idea what it was called, but it went really well with the spicy soup she served.

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