Yacon, Smallanthus sonchifolius, which means “water root” in the Inca language, is indigenous to the Andes region of Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. It is a perennial herb in the sunflower family and a close relative to the Jerusalem artichoke. Their leaves look like celery and can grow up to ten feet tall. The roots are very juicy and was a great source of a thirst quencher for a traveler in ancient South America.
Because of the high water content, it could act as a diuretic and promote urination. But because of the frequent urination, there is also danger of dehydration.
When extracted, the liquid makes yacon syrup. The syrup is a great sweetener as it is 50% fructooligosacharides or FOS, which is a type of sugar that is not easily digested by the stomach, making it beneficial for diabetics and those with hypoglycemia since it does not spike blood sugar levels. It is also low in calories.
Yacon is considered a prebiotic as it is one of those foods that is not digested but reaches the colon and stimulates growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
It has antibiotic properties as it contains ferulic, chlorogenic, and caggeic acids, which fight free-radicals that cause oxidation of cells that lead to aging. The ferulic acids found in the cell walls of certain underground vegetables, such as water chestnuts, lotus roots, as well as yacon lend to their crunch. The phenolic compounds in their cell walls form bonds with the cell-wall carbohydrates and prevent them from being dissolved away during cooking.
Yacon is thirsty, and with our rainfall, would be ideal for growing here. Plant them in compost and manure to hold the moisture. It is a prolific plant as each plant yields about 20 tubers, each weighing about one pound each. The roots could be red, orange, yellow, pink , purple or white.
If you can grow tomatoes well in your area, you should no problem growing yacon also. With care , it could last forever as it a perennial plant.
The root can be eaten raw, thinly sliced for salads. It will brown so a touch of lemon juice will prevent any color change. Because it tastes like apples, it would be a great replacement for apples in a Waldorf Salad. It can be blended with fruits and vegetables to make a healthy juice extract as it is a sweet cross between apples, watermelon, celery and pear. The leaves are also edible and can be brined and used instead of grape leaves.
I love a salad with a clean dressing, walnuts, Asian pears, and blue cheese. Here is a great salad with yacon instead of Asian pears.
Yacon and Blue Cheese Salad Serves 4
Spread onto a baking tray and toast in 300 degree oven for 10 minutes, checking to make sure it does not burn: 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans Fill a bowl with water and juice of one lemon. Peel and cut into thin slices, toss into the lemon water to prevent them from discoloring: 1 large yacon In a small bowl, whisk together: 1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar Pinch salt Slowly drizzle while mixing: 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (a nice, fruity one would be great) In a salad bowl, add: 4 cups salad greens, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces Lightly dress greens with dressing. Arrange dressed greens equally on four salad plates. Scatter with sliced yacon on top, then top with: 1/2 cup blue cheese, either Dorset blue, roquefort, or gorgonzola
You can also cook yacon. Here is a Thai chicken curry with yacon.
Thai Chicken Curry with Yacon Serves 4-6
Chop and place in a small bowl: 2 large garlic cloves, minced 1 pound yacon, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes 1 pound sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes Clean and cut into 1 inch pieces, then set aside: 1/2 pound green beans
Have ready in a separate bowl: 1 pound deboned, skinned chicken meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
Take the top cream from: (do not shake can) 1-14 ounce coconut milk Place cream in wok, cook, until bubbly, add: 3 tablespoons Thai green curry paste (Mae Ploy brand or similar) Cook until curry paste is heated through. Add remaining coconut milk. Add: 1/2 cup chicken broth 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce or nam pla 2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar 2 keffir leaves, crushed Cook until chicken is half-cooked, add garlic, yacon and sweet potatoes. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes until yacon and potatoes are cooked. When ready to serve, add: 1/4 cup Thai basil, coarsely chopped 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves Adjust flavors. The dish should have a balance of sweet (from the palm sugar), saltiness( from the fish sauce) and heat, the intensity is up to your tastes (from the curry paste). Serve with Jasmine rice.
Woodie is growing yacon and in a few weeks will have a lot to sell. Let me know if you are interested and I will give you his phone number.