What is it?, History, cultivation, nutritional value, uses, recipes, and more...

Maca is an herbaceous plant native to the high altitudes of the Peruvian Andes mountain range, which offers numerous health benefits due to its high nutritional and medicinal value. Maca is typically marketed based on its colors and the specific properties each color variety offers: yellow maca, red maca, and black maca.

What is Maca?

Maca is a biennial plant, small and flattened, with a tuberous root and sparsely branched stems. It has twelve to twenty entire and toothed leaves that rest close to the ground, forming a rosette.

The inflorescences are hermaphroditic panicles (compound clusters) and are grayish-white in color. Its seeds are oval-shaped and measure about 2mm in length.

The tuber, the maca itself, is the edible part and is the portion where the root joins the stem. These bulging “roots” can measure over 8 centimeters in diameter and can be white, yellowish, pink, and even red in color.

History of Maca

Maca originates from the Peruvian and Bolivian mountains. It is believed to have originated on the shores of Lake Junín, in the Jarpa mountains.

It is estimated that maca was already used by the Inca civilization from around 4,000 BC, although there are only traces of these crops from around 1,600 BC. Pedro Cieza de León, a Spanish explorer and conqueror, was the first to write about this food in his “Crónica general del Perú” in 1553. There are also other records of maca in writings by the Spanish missionary Father Cobo, “Compendio y Descripción de las Indias Occidentales” and “Historia del Nuevo Mundo.”

These writings affirm that maca provided health benefits to the inhabitants of the region and aided in reproduction. Additionally, it was used as a form of currency to pay Spanish tax collectors after colonization. The Incas considered it a luxurious and highly prized food, reserved for warriors and royalty.

la maca alimento foods superalimentos peruanos
Spanish and quechuamaca-maca, maino, ayak chichira, ayak willku
EnglishMaca, ginseng peruano

Lepidium meyenii

SpecieLepidium meyenii Walpers, 1843
  • Lepidium affine Wedd.


  • Lepidium gelidum Wedd.


  • Lepidium meyenii var. affine Thell.


  • Lepidium meyenii var. gelidum (Wedd.) Hosseus


  • Lepidium meyenii subsp. gelidum (Wedd.) Thell.


  • Lepidium orbignyanum Wedd.


  • Lepidium peruvianum G.Chacón


  • Lepidium weddellii O.E.Schulz

Lepidium: The generic name derives from the Greek and means “small scale,” referring to the size and shape of the fruits (silicles).

Meyenii: Term given in honor of the botanist Franz Julius Ferdinand Meyen.

Maca: The word originates from Quechua, a native language of the Andes.

Habitat of Maca

Habitat of Maca

Maca is a hermaphroditic root, making it self-fertile and pollinated by insects. Maca is cultivated in the northern Puna region of Peru and Bolivia, in grasslands between 4,000 and 4,500 meters above sea level. It is now distributed in the central Andes of Peru, Bolivia, northwest Argentina, and Brazil. It is also present in countries like Thailand, China, and Spain.

In Peru, its distribution and cultivation area is somewhat limited. The largest cultivation areas are found around Lake Junín, near Huayre, Carhuamayo, Uco, Ondores, Junín, Ninacaca, and Vicco.

For its proper development, constant water supply, good drainage, neutral pH soil, and abundant organic matter are required. Maca thrives in sandy, loamy, and clayey soils, as well as acidic, neutral, and alkaline soils. It is highly resilient to high and low temperatures, wind, and frost. It can grow in semi-shade (light forest) or without shade.

Typically, maca is planted as a biennial monoculture, with two cycles: one for harvesting the tuber/root for consumption and another for seed collection. Each cycle can last up to 12 months, hence the biennial nature.

Geographic Distribution of Maca


Huánuco, Huancavelica, Junín, Ayacucho, Pasco

Seasonal Availability of Maca

Varieties of Maca

Based on its coloration, ecotypes are differentiated, not varieties, as these colors come from the same parent plant, and the term is not used in taxonomy. The most well-known ones are:

  • Red Maca

  • Yellow Maca

  • Black Maca

Nutritional Value of Maca

Maca has rejuvenating, invigorating, energizing, and homeostatic attributes that restore the body’s balance.

Maca provides a high content of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. Additionally, its roots possess qualities that enhance fertility and virility.

Consuming maca powder is a rich source of amino acids that facilitate the transport and optimization of essential nutrients the body needs, such as water, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, and vitamins.

It contains linolenic acid, palmitic acid, and oleic acid, substances that contribute to reducing cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases.

Moreover, it contains minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, copper, iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, bismuth, manganese, silicon, and tin, which aid in bone formation and hormone production.

Furthermore, maca provides B-group vitamins like B1 and B2 for energy, vitamin C for cancer prevention, maintaining optimal cholesterol levels, wrinkle prevention, and heart health, and also vitamin E for skin protection.

Health Benefits of Maca

Maca restores mental and physical balance, reduces stress, enhances fertility in both sexes, alleviates premenstrual pain, regulates the menstrual cycle, eases menopause discomfort, and supports adolescent development.

Contraindications or Side Effects

Consumption of maca is discouraged for individuals with thyroid issues, as it contains goitrogens, substances that can hinder the normal functioning of the thyroid gland.

Pregnant or lactating women are advised to consult a doctor before consuming it.

It is also not advisable for those with kidney or liver insufficiency, nor should individuals with insomnia take it.


Tabla Nutricional

10 Porciones por Kilogramo
Tamaño de porción 100g
Cantidad por porción

Cantidad por 100g
Energía288 kJ
Grasa Total1.0 g
Carbohidratos totales13.2 g
    Carbohidratos disponibles
    Fibra Dietaria
Proteínas3.5 g
Calcio37 mg
Fósforo0 mg
Hierro49.90 mg
Agua79.8 g
Cenizas2.5 g
Vitamina A
Tiamina (B1)0.20 mg
Riboflavina (B2)0.35 mg
Niacina (B3)
Vitamina C2.10 mg
Acido Fólico (B9)
Fuente: Tablas peruanas de composición de alimentos – Centro Nacional de Alimentación y Nutrición – Ministerio de Salud – Perú

Derived Products and Consumption Forms of Maca

Capsules and dietary supplements
Chicha (traditional Andean fermented beverage)
Extracts and juices

Uses of Maca

The primary use of maca is as a dietary supplement due to its benefits as an energizer and a body-revitalizing food. However, it is also widely used as a food ingredient in various forms that aim to harness its properties.

Culinary Use of Maca

Maca has a flavor profile that ranges between bitter and spicy, and it can be masked by mixing it with vanilla extract and other spices. The taste and properties of maca vary depending on the colors in which it's presented, ranging from yellow to black. Typically, three types are commercialized: yellow maca, red maca, and black maca. The latter is considered to provide the most energetic properties and is often recommended as an aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer.

Maca is usually consumed in powdered form for its nutritional benefits; however, it can also be used in various culinary applications. Apart from being taken as a dietary supplement, it is traditionally added to various stews, used in infusions, and even substituted for flour in the making of cookies and desserts.

In the highlands of Peru, maca pudding and jam are popular preparations. Additionally, fresh maca roots are baked or roasted in ashes and are also used in the preparation of maca chicha.

Medicinal Use of Maca

Maca offers numerous benefits to the body, including:

  • Helps alleviate fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
  • Boosts libido in both men and women. Reduces the effects of menopause in women.
  • Provides energy for daily tasks and physical activities.
  • Has the ability to reduce inflammation of the prostate.
  • Stabilizes and controls blood pressure.
  • Relieves insomnia.
  • Helps reduce stress and fatigue. Acts as an analgesic and has sedative effects.
  • Speeds up wound healing and combats anemia.


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