Yacon, which may more commonly be known as the Peruvian ground apple, is a plant native to South America and grown for its crunchy tuberous roots. This perennial plant can easily be identified by its small, yellow, daisy-like flowers surrounded by dark green leaves. It may grow to over 2 meters in height and happens to belong to the same family as sunflowers. It also happens to be pest-free and drought resistant, and so can be easily grown almost anywhere all year round as long as there is no frost. Yacon roots are sweet-tasting and crisp; they are described as a sort of winter delicacy in spite of being a vegetable.
The yacon plant produces two types of underground tubers. The first type consists of rhizomes that are red in colour and grow close to the surface. They are sometimes eaten but are mostly used for planting more yacon. The other type consists of brown colored tubers which are larger in size and the ones you want to eat. From these very same tubers, yacon root extract can be drawn and turned into thick syrup known as yacon syrup, which has important physiologic effects on the human body.
The yacon plant has been traditionally grown by farmers on the eastern slopes of the Andes. The plant is well-adjusted to the ever-changing weather of the Andes, growing as easily in sub-tropical climate as the cooler temperatures in central Andes. Extremely dry and cold weather can cause the aerial yacon leaves to die but the rhizomes remain beneath the soil and sprout as soon as the temperature and moisture content becomes more favorable. Even though frost can deter its growth, not much else seems to affect it. Not only does it seem to be pretty drought-resistant, it can also grow easily on poor soil that tends to give other plants a harder time. Due to its ability to adapt to different climates and weathers, the yacon plant can be grown to produce a commercial yield almost everywhere.
The small, red yacon root tubers that grow superficially beneath the soil can be used to plant more yacon. Simply wash off the soil and cover them with slightly damp sand or sawdust, making sure to keep them away from the sun. Keep them in a dark corner of the shed, preferably one that is completely dry. If you live in a cold area where the rhizomes would not be safe from the cold, it would be better to store them in Styrofoam boxes and planted when the frost goes away. Check on them and as soon as they begin to sprout, they are ready to be planted wherever you want!
First prepare the soil in which it will be planted by loosening it and adding some compost with a fork. While the yacon is known to grow in poor soil it flourishes best in rich and well-drained soil. Once the soil has been prepared, plant a large rhizome with several sprouts in the soil to a depth of about 3 cm. Now mulch over it well, allowing the conservation of moisture and increased fertility of the soil. Don’t worry if it looks like the layer is too thick, the sprouts will poke through easily without any help. As for weeding, that’s another thing you won’t have to worry about much as the yacon plant forms a dense shade as it grows, preventing the growth of any other plant near it. However, due to this same property, make sure to plant yacon at least 0.5 meters apart. A last piece of great news, the yacon plant is completely pest free!
Six to seven months after you planted the yacon tubers, the plant will have become mature. The tubers are to be harvested once the flowering top withers and dies. You will notice that the soil around the base of the plant will start to seem like its being tugged at. Once that happens you can dig a little around some of the superficial immature tubers to allow them time to mature further. As the plant dies the yacon tubers become sweeter, however be careful not to leave the tubers in for too long. In places with mild winters, the tubers begin to sprout again due to suitable temperature and moisture. To harvest the tubers, dig carefully around them being careful not to damage them with your spade. Again separate the small, red rhizomes and keep them in a dark place for later propagation. As for the brown tubers, you can leave them in the sun to sweeten and enjoy the crispy juiciness of your home grown yacon fruit! (Well technically, it’s a vegetable.)
Yacon is well known for its crunchy, juicy and fruit-like sweet flavor. The most preferred way of eating yacon is in its raw state. First remove the outer dark skin and then inner white skin to yield a scrumptious and appetizing pulp. It can be enjoyed as a simple snack or even in salads, but it should be added in the last minute before serving as it gets brown quickly once peeled. Addition of citric acid, for instance lemon juice, prevent it from discoloration. Peeled and chopped yacon mixed with other fruits, particularly mango and pineapple, makes an ideal salad during summer.
You can also boil, steam or bake yacon root according to ones convenience and taste. It can be used in pie or can be made into a jam or syrup. You can make yacon a part of your daily diet through various mediums for it is available in the form of yacon tea, yacon chips, and numerous recipes.
There are an assortment of yacon health benefits, and the root itself is very low in calories making it a perfect ingredient for those wanting a low calorie diet.
Some of the most popular yacon health benefits include the control of blood sugar levels, control of cholesterol level, boosting immune system and helping in weight loss. The yacon root is full of health benefits some might be undiscovered but let’s take a look at a few ones.
Despite of its usefulness there might be a few side effects. Some reported side effects are:
There have been studies conducted on Yacon syrup using a dose of 0.29 g and 0.14 g fructooligosaccharides per kg of body weight per day. The upper limit did cause undesirable gastrointestinal effects for some people, but the lower level worked well. However, eating yacon raw or cooked should not cause in problems since the concentration in ructooligosaccharides is less in volume.
Yacon is an important plant with loads of therapeutic and physiologic effects. Numerous researches are carried out to analyze the usefulness of this plant and to further use these outcomes in the field of medicine and everyday life. Some things are proven and others are still in process but there is a promising future of this plant in human life.