Tonielle Christensen Land & Nature Stewardship, Plant Nursery Leave a Comment



Common Name:  Yacon, Sweet-Root, Peruvian Ground Apple, Strawberry Jicama, Bolivian Sunroot, Groundpear, Pear of the Earth.

Latin Name:  Smallanthus sonchifolius.

Origin:  North and South America.

Description (what it looks like):  A vigorous, hardy, attractive herbaceous perennial that yields a large harvest of tubers, that look a bit like sweet potatoes. The tubers have an appealing crunchy crispness that is a cross between apple and watermelon, with overtones of sugarcane.  A relative of the sunflower.  Grows between 1-2 metres tall with small, daisy-like yellow flowers.

Uses (function):  Good filler for fruit and vegetable juices.  Leafy greens good animal fodder.  Grow in harder soils for foliage, rather than tubers.  Tubers excellent for cattle feed.  Protects soil from erosion and evaporation.  Good understory plant to prevent weed growth.  Edible tubers and leaves.

Nutritional value:  Yacon is noted for its high fiber and low calorie content.  The tubers and leaves contain high levels of inulin, a form of sugar humans cannot easily break down, making it low in calories.  Inulin also aids digestion and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine.  Also a good source of antioxidants and high in potassium.

Growing details (propagation, seed etc):  Yacon actually produces two types of underground tubers, reddish rhizomes, used for propagation and larger brown tubers, which are eaten.  Cover the red rhizomes with slightly damp material to stop them drying out and put aside in a dark, dry place.  When they begin to sprout it is time to plant.  Prepare the soil by loosening well with a fork and working in compost.  Cover with soil to a depth of 3 cm.  Mulch well, yacon will grow up through the mulch, just like potatoes.  Space 50cms apart.  Harvest July-September when the foliage dies back.

Best time to grow:  All year round in frost-free areas.

Soil:  Rich, friable, well-drained soil with neutral pH (6.6-7.3).

Sun:  Full sun (80%-100%).

Water:  Thrives in well irrigated soil, yet can be left to dry out from time to time, although tuber production will be reduced.

How to eat it:  The tubers can be peeled and eaten raw, finely sliced and mixed into salads, boiled or baked, fried as chips or prepared as a pickle.  The main stem can be used like celery.  The texture and flavour have been described as a cross between a fresh apple and watermelon.  Dry the leaves and use them as a tea.  Add chunks of tuber to a potato salad.  Cut into sticks and use with dips.  Bake with other vegetables for a roast dinner.  Boil in their skin, then peel the skin off easily like a boiled egg.  Chop the peeled tubers into bite-size pieces and sauté them in a little butter until the sugar begins to caramelize.  Yacon can also be used in a dessert crumble or pie with apples, pears or choko.  Grate and squeeze through a cloth to yield a sweet refreshing drink.  The juice can also be boiled down to produce a syrup.  Wrap foods in the leaves and steam.


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