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I'm just back from a trip to Hawaii, and hot to make an oven version of kalua-style turkey. Of course, all the recipes call for Ti leaves for wrapping the whole thing up. I don't think I can easily get Ti leaves locally, though I know I can get Banana leaves. I know that you can't just substitute banana leaves because they do have a slight anise flavor--fine if you want it, but definitely not the same.

The problem is I don't know what flavor, if any, ti leaves impart to cooked items. In the case of kalua-style cooking, the leaves are used as a steam-retaining wrap in a low temperature, long cooking situation. Our hosts in Hawaii said they didn't think they have a flavor, but I'm not so sure. There was definitely a slight plant-y flavor to the turkey that I couldn't readily identify.

Does anyone know if Ti leaves have a flavor and what it might be like?

If folks think there's not any (or very little) flavor imparted, what might be a good substitute if I can't get them?

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I know that Ti is more of a "plant" than an "herb" but that seems to be the most applicable tag we have. – Aaronut Dec 6 '10 at 20:23
And if we can't determine that it's got any flavor, it's REALLY not an herb. I don't know about making a ti tag either--I doubt there are going to be a whole mess of people asking about ti leaves. But you never know. – bikeboy389 Dec 6 '10 at 21:00
Everything has a flavour; the question is simply one of whether or not that flavour is transferred during the cooking process. Which makes me think... you might want to specify the cooking process. – Aaronut Dec 6 '10 at 21:28
Starting to look like I'm going to have to make the turkey with something other than ti leaves, and then answer my own question. – bikeboy389 Dec 7 '10 at 18:40
up vote 2 down vote accepted

According to at least one Kalua recipe that I've found, you can just wrap in aluminum foil instead. That would imply, to me, that they're not used for any (significant) flavor. The recipe does use a single banana leaf for flavor, but Ti leaves for the outer wrapping. Using foil may not give you the exact same results, but it might be "close enough" for people who don't actually live in Hawaii.

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Yeah. I guess what threw me off is that most of the turkey recipes call for ti leaves and then foil over the whole works. The ti leaves seemed superfluous if all they're doing is what the foil is already doing, so I had doubt. But you're probably right. I'm still hoping for something definitive, but may have to go with this, and maybe a test-cook on my end. – bikeboy389 Dec 7 '10 at 19:19
ti leaves might be cheap and strong, while aluminium foil might be expensive and easy to tear. – Arafangion Jan 21 '11 at 11:21

it has to do with moisture. The ti leaves are to help with the internal steaming. You can use dried corn husks you can get in a Mexican super market. Soak them for 10 minutes and then wrap your item with it. It works well. I've done this for lau lau before and should work with your turkey.

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Ti does add flavor, but I cannot describe it. The reason for the foil is that it seals everything in. It is a substitute for burying everything (imu). You may not be able to buy ti leaves, but you can grow them. The "log" starters (certified for import to the mainland by the USDA) are available at Amazon.

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