Yacón: Tasty and Nutritional Tuber
Crisp, sweet, and incredibly good for you, Yacón, also known as the Peruvian ground apple, will quench your thirst and benefit you nutritionally. This tasty perennial tuber is native to the Andes and not yet widely grown in North America. However, you will find that growing this exotic culinary delight is as easy as cultivating its more well known cousins: the dahlia, and the Jerusalem artichoke.
Indeed, the steps for yacón cultivation will be second nature to the seasoned dahlia grower; both plants are perennial in very light frost areas, however in colder climates you save the crowns over the winter in your root cellar or a dark corner of the basement to plant next season. Because the yacón is a frost sensitive plant, it is recommended that the crowns be started indoors in pots and planted outside at the same time you plant your tomatoes. Be sure to amend your plot with lots of well-composted manure, plant the crowns with three to four feet of space between each plant, and when fall sets in add a layer of straw mulch around each plant to protect the tubers. The top of the plant will die off in the frost, it is now time to carefully dig up the plants. You will see two distinct types of roots; the engorged tubers, which you will eat, and the thinner crowns, which you will store to plant next season. The tubers will sweeten in storage and can keep for up to eight months if stored properly.
The sweetness of yacón is what makes it a nutritional wonder; the tubers provide inulin, a source of sugar that humans cannot easily break down, making it low in calories. Yacón is popular in diabetic cooking and weight loss recipes for this very reason. However the yacón root is more than just a sugar substitute; the leaves, which can be used as a wrap much like a grape or banana leaf, is high in antioxidants. The roots are also known to be a prebiotic; they help the beneficial bacteria that enhance colon health and aid digestion.
Aside from the nutritional benefits, the Peruvian ground apple’s texture and taste will astound you. The tuber only gets sweeter with time, and the texture is unique: almost like water chestnut. The flavor is described as a cross between apple and watermelon. The raw tuber can add an apple or jicama quality to salads, try juicing them raw to add a sweet note to your more earthy concoctions. You can also cook the tubers, bake them in a crisp or pie in place of apples or pears. The tubers can be roasted along with other root vegetables to make a sweet side dish. Yakón leaves are a green that is high in antioxidants try them as a no-carb sandwich wrap. We are growing yakón at Baker Creek and have found it to be a delicious, versatile vegetable.
Yacón and Watermelon salad
1 medium sized Yacón root, peeled and diced
1 cup diced watermelon
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup sunflower seeds
1 sprig of fresh mint
½ tsp coarse sea salt
This salad is the perfect recipe for the last of the watermelon harvest, when the yacón is harvested in the fall. Lightly toss watermelon and yacón in lemon juice; the tubers will become brown when peeled and exposed to the air, the citrus will keep the yacón from becoming discolored. Next toss the feta and sunflower seeds in the melon mix, finally sprinkle with sea salt and garnish with mint. This is an incredibly thirst-quenching salad, the word yacón means ‘water root’ in the Inca language, and it is said that Incan travelers would use the tubers to keep hydrated on long journeys.
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