Peruvian Ground Apple
South America - Northern & Central Andes
Yacon is a fascinating plant that comes from South America. It grows tall with big arrow shaped leathery leaves and flowers that resemble small sun flowers. When grown in good soil and in conditions that the plant loves they can become very tall. The plant does not react well to cold and is not frost resistant. It can not be grown in climates where the environment isn't supportive.
The tuber roots, similar in size and look to Sweet Potato, are the part of the plant that are most commonly used as a food although the leaves and stems do hold nutritional value. There are two types of roots that the plant supports; one is a perennial root system much like any other plant while underneath big tuber like roots form that hold a great deal of root juices. The larger Yacon tuber roots are used to produce sweet syrup and powder since the root juices hold a great deal of fructooligosaccharides which is a polysaccharide made up of fructose.
The reason why Yacon root products are so good as a sugar alternative is because of the nature of fructooligosaccharides. This polysaccharide is sweet tasting but indigestible when it reaches the gut meaning that it holds no calorific value and passes directly through the body. Yacon is of benefit to those who might be following a low sugar diet but also because Yacon root products have a prebiotic action. The fructooligosaccharides act as a food to the healthy bacteria in the lower intestine promoting their effectiveness. Having a good amount of healthy bacteria is important to the digestion and immunity.
When the Yacon plant is at the end of its life and the plant begins to whither, the roots naturally start producing enzymes which convert the indigestible sugars into fructose. In Peru, some farmers will cure their Yacon roots for about a week to increase the sweet taste. Yacon harvested fresh from the ground is higher in oligofructans (indigestible sugars) and better for those who wish to follow a low sugar diet.
The Yacon root is used raw in fruit salads or the root can be powdered or converted to syrup. Yacon Syrup and Powder are then used as a sugar alternative to sweeten food. The leaves of the Yacon plant are sometimes eaten as well.
Sometimes called the 'Peruvian Ground Apple', Yacon is eaten raw and traditionally used as a source of refreshment in a fruit salad called Salpicón by the people of the Andes. Yacon is supposedly one of the legendary forgotten crops of the Incas although this might not be possible since the root hasn't been popular even in the Peruvian capital Lima since early 2000. It's possible the Japanese made Yacon popular as a modern Peruvian crop since the discovery of Yacon as a low GI sugar alternative. Since early 2000 Yacon has now become increasingly popular all over the world.
There are some local legends attached to Yacon in Peru that tell of it being eaten by messengers on long journeys. Not only would the root provide a little nourishment it would also hydrate the body. There is also evidence to suggest that Yacon root could have been used as an offering during a festivity celebrating deceased ancestors during the Moche era of Inca history. This has been suggested since evidence exists of an early colonial Catholic ritual held at the same time in Peru as the Moche ancestor ritual. Both rituals involve the use of Yacon which could mean early Catholics changed the early ritualistic significance of Yacon through imposing their own.
Water, fructooligosaccharides (oligofructans), free fructose, glucose, sucrose, inulin, starch, chlorogenic / ferulic caffeic acids, sesquiterpene lactones, y-cadinene, caffeic-acid, 3-caffeoylquinic-acid, chlorogenic-acid, 2,4-dicaffeoylaltraric-acid, 2,5-dicaffeoylaltraric-acid, 3,5-dicaffeoylaltraric-acid, 3,5-dicaffeoylquinic-acid, enhydrin, ferulic-acid, fluctuanin, gallic-acid, gentisic-acid, inulin, melampolides, oligofructans, beta-pinene, protocatechuic-acid, rosmarinic-acid, sonchifolin, tryptophan, 2,3,5-tricaffeoylaltraric-acid, 2,4,5-tricaffeoylaltraric-acid, and uvedalin.