Root vegetables are some of my favorites. I love their flavor, versatility, and health benefits. Yacon is a lesser-known root vegetable that, although previously often overlooked, is now gaining popularity once more, especially among home gardeners. It has a crisp texture and a sweeter taste that one might compare with an apple. If you’re looking to see how to incorporate this vegetable into your diet, keep reading. Here I’ll tell you everything you need to know about cooking and eating Yacon.
What is Yacon Root?
The Yacon root is a perennial root vegetable that, at first glance, looks like a sweet potato. It’s primarily grown in South America, where you’ll sometimes hear it referred to as the Peruvian ground apple or Apple of the Earth. As mentioned, this nickname comes from the fact that it tends to taste a bit like an apple. It’s now cultivated and grown in numerous other parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, parts of Asia, and the United States.
Yacon root has become quite popular for its health benefits. Because it is high in fiber and low in caloric starch, many people claim that it can promote weight loss and improve digestion. It is also popular as a natural food sweetener because of the sugar content of its syrup.
What Part of the Yacon Plant is Edible?
Yacon grows as a tall plant with dark green leaves and small yellow flowers resembling a daisy. They’re considered to be a part of the same family as sunflowers, and although they can grow as tall as sunflowers, their yellow flowers are much smaller.
The part of the plant that people use for food is the tuber that grows underneath the ground. These are harvested from the ground when the flowering top of the plant withers and dies. Usually, they are ready about six or seven months after you plant them.
As you harvest the plant for the tubers, you’ll see two different types underneath the ground. The small, reddish-colored tubers that you’ll find just below the soil are not for consumption. Save and use those for propagating the plant again.
The tubers that you eat are the larger, brown-colored tubers (look similar to sweet potatoes). These are the tubers that you’ll use in recipes and can extract into yacon syrup.
The leaves of the yacon plant aren’t generally edible, as they will not taste very good. However, sometimes they are dried and used as a tea, which some say can help control blood sugar levels.
How to Buy and Store Yacon
You likely won’t find yacon very easily in any grocery store and will probably have to consider growing it yourself if you want to have the roots. However, you may occasionally find it stocked at certain specialty health food stores, and these stores will often sell products made of yacon, such as syrup or powder.
If stored properly, you can keep the yacon root that you’ve grown in your garden for up to eight months. To avoid rotting, you need to keep them in cold storage. The ideal temperature for storing yacon is about 40°F (4°C). If you have a cool, dry basement that will keep that temperature, you can store them there. Make sure to store them loosely and not tightly pack them together. Also, check on them every few weeks, and weed out the ones that have started to show signs of rot. Usually, the smallest tubers will rot first.
How to Grow Yacon
Since you might have difficulty finding yacon root at the store, you may want to consider growing it in your home garden instead, so you’ll have it on hand to enjoy. It provides a healthy crop, and a single plant can produce up to 20 pounds of tubers yearly.
Luckily, yacon is not very difficult to grow and tends to grow easily in various soil conditions. Since it’s a perennial, once you have it established, it will continue to produce an abundant crop every year with minimal effort. Although in colder climates, the plant may only act as an annual, and you will have to replant each year.
If you live in a colder area, start your tubers indoors in the early spring and plant them in the ground once the danger of frost has passed. In warm climates, you can plant them directly in the ground any time of year. They will take about six or seven months to grow, so be patient. You’ll know they’re ready when the plant leaves start to brown and die.
In cold climates, save the small red-colored tubers (rhizomes) for planting and growing the following year.
Yes, You can eat yacon raw, and it’s actually quite delicious when prepared properly. However, remember that once you cut into the yacon, it will start to brown quickly (similar to how cut avocado brown quickly). You’ll want to toss the cut yacon with a little bit of lemon juice to prevent this browning from happening as quickly. You’ll notice that many recipes that utilize yacon root also incorporate some citrus in them.
Raw yacon tastes excellent in salads or dishes like coleslaw. You can also just eat it as is, as soon as you cut it. Its raw taste is refreshing, like a combination of apple and watermelon, and not starchy, like a potato, even though it looks like one.
If you don’t want to eat the yacon raw, you can use it in numerous recipes. Treat it like any root vegetable, like a potato or carrot, and use it in soups, casseroles, stir-fries, or simply roast or boil it. You can also use it in certain recipes where you might use an apple. One great thing about yacon is that it tends to keep its crunchy texture, even after cooking.
Of course, many people use the yacon to make yacon syrup. The syrup is then used as a natural substitute for certain sweeteners and can replace these sweeteners in baked goods and other similar types of recipes. Some people even use yacon syrup to sweeten their daily cup of coffee.
You can also make the leaves of yacon into tea or purchase yacon powder, which you can use in recipes as a replacement for refined sugar, or incorporate into smoothies as you would a protein or superfood powder.
If you’re ready to try yacon for yourself, here’s a list of some versatile recipes.
Recipes Using Yacon Root
Yacon Applesauce — from Kris Bordessa of Attainable Sustainable.A unique applesauce “knockoff” that uses yacon root to take the place of apples.
Roasted Yacon With Feta, Chili, and Lime — from Able & Cole. This unique salad uses roasted yacon instead of raw to give it a tender and flavorful taste that contrasts nicely with the crisp salad greens and lime dressing.
Halibut Cerviche With Yacon Root — from Marx Foods Recipes. The crisp apple texture of the yacon root combines nicely with the corn and chunks of fresh halibut. The citrusy dressing made from lime, orange zest, and lemon provides a nice complex flavor.
Chicken Fried Yacon — from Miss Chinese Food. This great dupe for a takeout Chinese food dish uses yacon mixed with lightly fried chicken to produce a delicious and healthy combination.
Yacon Syrup — from The Utopian Seed Project. It shows you how to make yacon syrup from the root, which you can use as a natural sweetener in many other recipes.
Once you’ve made your homemade yacon syrup using the recipe above, or purchased some yacon syrup from the store, incorporate it into one of these delicious recipes.
Gluten-Free Yacon Mustard Chicken — from LaRena’s Corner. This recipe uses yacon syrup to create a delicious mustard sauce that you pour over shredded chicken for a unique tasting meal that’s also gluten-free.
Yacon Syrup Chocolate Sauce — from Yacon.org. Use this chocolate sauce where you would use the traditional kind, such as on top of ice cream or other desserts.
Chocolate Chip Cookies With Yacon — from Elena’s Pantry. It uses yacon syrup in place of brown sugar in this delicious and healthier chocolate chip cookie recipe, which is also gluten-free.
Sugar-Free Keto BBQ Sauce — from Sugar-Free Mom. This barbeque sauce uses yacon syrup instead of sugar to achieve sweetness and contains only three carbs.
Easy Vegan Energy Balls — from Almitas Superfoods. This easy recipe uses yacon syrup to sweeten these energy balls that are both delicious and healthy.
Yacon Tea — from Tea Almanac. It shows you how to use dried yacon leaves to prepare a hot tea for drinking.
I recently only started incorporating more yacon into my diet, and I’m glad I did. This root vegetable is easy to prepare and has a multitude of uses. It also provides a unique and refreshing taste in salads, soups, and other dishes.
Although you can easily find yacon syrup at various health food and grocery stores, purchasing the actual yacon root will certainly prove more difficult. If you have a home garden, you may want to consider growing this unique vegetable at home. It’s easy to grow, stores well, and produces a bountiful harvest.
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