What is Yacon?

Have you ever tried a flavor that is a mixture of things like apple, pear and celery? It sounds strange, isn’t it? What if I tell you there is something with a crispy texture and the crispiness remains the same even after being cut or cooked. Have you guessed it? It’s Yacon, also commonly known as Ground Apple, Earth Apple, and Sweet Root. It is a plant having crispy, juicy and mildly sweet roots.

History of Yacon:

Yacon is a large perennial plant that has been grown for thousands of years. It is mainly cultivated for its roots. Primarily it is grown in South America, Central and Northern Andes, Colombia, and Argentina.

Yacon was not widely known outside of its native range until recent decades. However, recently it is cultivated in Australia and New Zealand. Yacon is also popularly spreading in Japan, China, and South Korea.

Morphology of Yacon:

Smallanthus sonchifolius commonly known as Yacon is a relative of sunflowers. It typically grows 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) tall in the ideal climate. The edible part of the Yacon is its cluster of storage roots which are mostly more than a dozen. Yacon roots are mostly used as a fruit rather than a vegetable. You may call them tubers, but in actual they are tuberous or storage roots. It is elongated brown with a white flesh colour.

Some varieties are tall and others are short. The roots are in various shapes like cylindrical, spherical, lemon-shaped and pear-shaped. The level of sweetness varies and increases with post-harvest storage.

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Yacon varieties:

Yacon tubers (Smallanthus sonchifolius) exist in many varieties. They come in different colours like red, orange, yellow, pink and purple. Nevertheless, most of the more colourful ones are confined to South America, where yacon is native. We’re most likely to encounter white varieties in the rest of the world.

Yacon benefits:

Do you know what a diet potato is? If not, let’s dive in. Tubers of yacon consist of water and an indigestible carbohydrate named fructooligosaccharides. As a result, it has low-calorie levels and prevents excess sugar levels in the blood.

Moreover, Yacon also aids your body to increase the absorption of minerals and vitamins. Yacon also has a high content of micronutrients like calcium, potassium and phosphorus. It is a rich source of fibre and water.

Therefore, Yacon offers huge health benefits, like regulating blood sugar levels, lowering low-density lipoproteins and bad cholesterol, aids in weight loss. It overall improves the health of the liver and boosts metabolism. It is not only juicy and refreshing but also bulky and slow to digest.

How to grow Yacon?

As a rule, unless you have a large number of plants or reside in a warm climate, you should plant your yacon in pots before transplanting them. Yacon prefers cool soil and it starts growing slowly.

If you put your pots on the windowsill about two months before the last frost, you will have an advantage. Yacon transplants pretty well as long as it is not too tall. After a particular height, it is likely to have become pot-bound. To get a good yield, it will need to be cut and loosened a lot to spread out the root ball.

Yacon tolerates temperatures as high as 104°F (40 C) as long as there is adequate water. The ideal temperature for growth is between 65 and 77°F (18 and 25 C). Yacon can tolerate a higher maximum temperature when conditions are dry and windy.

Yacon’s diseases and pests:

The foliage of the yacon is attractive to many pests. The list of pests includes slugs, caterpillars and waterfowl. However, it is not a huge issue, as insects are usually manageable and will leave holes in the leaves to indicate their presence.

Yacon is subject to a fairly wide variety of common diseases. The most common ones include cucumber mosaic virus, aster yellows, wilts and fungal mildews. The appearance of black rot symptoms confirms the presence of bacterial causative agents.

The most common and widely spread viral disease is Cucumber mosaic virus. It can become a serious yield problem. The best method to protect plants and get rid of this viral disease is to remove the infected plants as quickly as possible. One should destroy the infected plants immediately. Another way to protect yacon plants is to keep them away from related plants like sunflowers.

How to store Yacon?

Do you want to store yacon roots for later use? The tubers are best stored as intact, having small storage roots still attached. Trim the stems then shake them to free yacon from the dirt. You can spray clean water as well. However, keep in mind to allow complete drying.

 Never store them when wet because fungal molds will be grown and ruin these. You can keep the yacon in front of a fan for drying as well. Pack the roots when fully dried. At  10°C these tubers will last for more than three to four months. However, if you maintain a low temperature, they can even last up to a year.

If you are thinking of storing the broken roots, think again. Broken roots don’t get stored for a longer time so better use them first. However, if the number of broken roots is more, use any food-safe wax and dip the broken ends in it.

How to eat Yacon?

  • Yacon tubers are mostly consumed raw, but you have to peel the skin first.
  • The tuberous roots of yacon are also utilized in the form of dehydrated products like flour, chips, slice, and purees.
  • Yacon is also used in the form of juices, sweeteners, and syrup.
  • The dried leaves of Yacon are also used for tea.
  • Adding yacon into fruit salads is another great way of consuming it.

More tips for Yacon:

  • Yacon leaves are found to be slightly toxic to kidneys if consumed directly, so the leaves should be consumed with care.
  • Always consult your doctor if you have any particular health conditions or allergies. Haven’t you heard that prevention is always better than cure?
  • Too much of anything is good for nothing, so avoid overconsumption and it can lead to intestinal pain.
  • If you are thinking of utilizing it for weight loss, consulting your physician priorly will ensure maximum safety.
  • Overconsumption of yacon syrup may have a laxative effect leading to diarrhoea and gastrointestinal discomfort.

So what are you waiting for? What is stopping you from enjoying crispy, juicy and savory recipes having yacon in them? Happy Eating!

Other Root Vegetables

  1. Malanga Coco
  2. Celery Root
  3. Sunchoke
  4. Watermelon Radish
  5. Cassava
  6. Yellow Yam

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