Yacón: Sunflower’s Sweet Cousin

By Seyyada Burney

Despite its striking resemblance to sweet potatoes, the Peruvian Ground Apple, or Yacón, is part of the Asteracea, or sunflower, family. This herbaceous perennial grows to between 1.5-2 meters in height and produces both rhizomes, from which new shoots will continuously grow, and storage roots or tubers that are eaten or processed.

Newly harvested yacón can be eaten raw or processed directly. (Photo credit: Soren Holt, eattheweeds.com)

Yacón roots consist of mostly water and inulin. Inulin is a naturally occurring polysaccharide or fructose that our bodies cannot absorb and so is used as a low calorie sweetener for diabetic, hyperglycemic, or simply health conscious individuals. The crisp and sweet yacón root is traditionally eaten raw, but can also be grated and squeezed through a cloth to extract juice.

Until recently, yacón cultivation occurred primarily within native regions such as Peru and Bolivia where yacón plants along field borders provided yearlong refreshments and ingredients for natural remedies. Today, however, foodies and farmers alike grow yacón in regions as diverse as the United States, Japan, and Tasmania for a multitude of uses. Yacón syrup and other yacón derivatives are gaining popularity as sweeteners and antioxidants. They also act as a prebiotic, promoting digestion in much the same way as bananas and garlic.

Many specialty food or gardening websites and blogs now offer yacón rhizomes, root, syrup, and tea as well as helpful tips on how to grow yacón or make your very own yacón cookies!

Have you ever tried to grow yacón, or use yacón syrup in your cooking? Tell us about your experience by commenting below.

To learn more about indigenous vegetables, read: Tomatillos: Adding Zest to Central American Livelihoods for Millennia, White Honey From Tigray: Distinct Flavor from Dizzying Heights, Imbe: Africa’s Queen of Fruits, and Potato, Potahto.

 Seyyada Burney is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Go to Source