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Healthy taro products by Voyaging Foods

CI0A1224-CElevitchBrynn Foster displays one of the taro products she has developed over the past few years.Brynn Foster started her personal voyage to develop healthy food products from indigenous Hawaiian crops in 2005. As a young mother, she was dedicated to finding healthy foods for her children. Motivated by a lack of commercially available teething biscuits free from refined sugar, diary, and gluten, Foster’s first product was a taro-based teething biscuit.

“Growing up, I knew how important taro and poi are as a baby’s first food.  I wanted to get taro into my children’s diet in more ways than just poi, so I baked it and used it as a flour replacement,” recounts Foster about her early years. “My college thesis at Pepperdine University was about the Hawaiian’s physical and spiritual connection to the land, so I finally was able to apply what I studied and knew intellectually to something tangible.” Through this process of discovery, Foster began her career as more than a food processor, but as a local food advocate.

There was a long learning period of seven years, during which time Foster learned about growing and processing taro. Inspired in many ways by the work of the Reppun ‘ohana and Jerry Konanui, she gradually expanded her knowledge and appreciation for taro. Taro flour revealed itself as the most promising processed product for the product line and customer base that Foster envisioned, so she devoted herself to reading all the research material she could find about taro flour. She interviewed a range of university professors for their input. “I was really fascinated about why things didn’t work out with taro products in the past. I heard that the economics of Hawaiian taro and that consumer acceptance had been issues with commercialization previously.” Partly because of Foster’s Hawaiian ancestors, and partly because of her drive to support the local food system, her passion for taro goes far beyond profits.

Taro’s time-tested nutritional value, combined with being gluten-free and hypoallergenic, has formed the basis for a product line that began with the teething biscuits and now includes ready-to-use taro flour, flakes, and pancake mix. These shelf-stable products are sold in Hawai‘i and on the U.S. mainland, which the company currently reaches through their web site. Foster also has a wholesale bakery that uses her taro products in a range of baked goods including breads and energy bars sold through select local cafes and health food stores.

University of Hawai‘i resource specialists that have helped and motivated Foster throughout the multi-year process of developing her business include the Agribusiness Incubator Program, Jim Hollyer of College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, and Soojin Jun of the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences.

Now that Foster has developed a product line and business model, her job is to educate customers about the products. “More and more people understand the value of gluten-free flours. My role now is to inform people about taro as a healthy food, how nutritious it is for body and spirit.”

Voyaging Foods, Hawai‘i Kai, O‘ahu
Brynn Foster, owner

This profile was excerpted with permission of the authors from:

Elevitch, C., and K. Love. 2013. Adding Value to Locally Grown Crops in Hawai‘i: A Guide for Small Farm Enterprise Innovation. Permanent Agriculture Resources, Holualoa, Hawai‘i. www.valueadded.info

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