What is it?, history, cultivation, nutritional value, uses, recipes, and more...
Yacon is a tuber that has been domesticated in the Andes, probably in the humid regions of Peru and Bolivia, since around 1200 BC. It is a plant recommended for low-calorie and diabetic diets, as its consumption promotes the absorption of glucose in peripheral tissues and improves insulin sensitivity.
What is Yacon?
Yacon is a tuber cultivated in warm and temperate areas of the Andes Mountains. In Peru, it is grown in the departments of Amazonas, Cajamarca, San Martín, Pasco, Cusco, Apurímac, and Puno.
The yacon plant can grow between one and a half to three meters in height. It is a perennial plant with a root system of fleshy, tuberous, and fusiform roots that can reach up to 25 cm in length and 10 cm in diameter. Its stem is cylindrical and green-purple in color. Its leaves are about 33 cm long and 22 cm wide, and its flowers are small, varying in color from orange to bright yellow.
Unlike other root vegetables domesticated by the Incas, such as olluco or oca, yacon is not affected by photoperiods and can produce a commercial harvest in tropical regions.
Its rough and somewhat brown skin gives it an appearance similar to yucca, but unlike yucca, it has a sweeter and crunchier texture. Inside, it can be white, yellow, purple, orange, and in some harvests, even spotted with fuchsia.
This plant can be fully utilized: from its root, used in making juices, to its leaves, used for making infusions.
History of Yacon
Yacon is a shrubby plant native to the Andes that was domesticated by the population of Tahuantinsuyo. The pre-Hispanic Peruvian population consumed it for the sweetness of its thickened roots as “fruit,” either fresh or after being exposed to the sun for a few days to enhance its sweetness.
Pre-Hispanic ceramics and textiles dating back over 1000 years have been found on the Peruvian coast, attributed to the Nazca culture, which include some phytomorphic representations of yacon.
This food was first documented in 1615 by Guamán Poma de Ayala, who included yacon in the list of 55 plants cultivated in the Andes, as recorded in the book “Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno.”
In 1633, the renowned chronicler Bernabé Cobo referred to its consumption as raw fruit that improves in flavor when exposed to the sun and lasts many days after being harvested, without spoiling; on the contrary, becoming more pleasant. The Russian botanist Yacovleff (1933) noted that yacon is found in almost all the funerary bundles of Paracas.
It is known that yacon first reached Japan in the 1970s, from where it spread to other Asian countries, especially South Korea, China, the Philippines, and Taiwan. These are countries where it is available nowadays. In 1985, it arrived in New Zealand and currently grows well in southern Australia as well.
Habitat of Yacon
Yacon is cultivated in many areas of the Andes, from Ecuador to northwest Argentina (provinces of Salta and Jujuy). It is mainly grown as a plant for family consumption or export, and less for the local domestic market, at altitudes ranging from 900 to 2,750 meters above sea level.
In the last three decades, yacon cultivation has spread to other continents, and it can now be found in supermarkets in the United States, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, among other countries.
Yacon adapts to a wide variety of soils, but it thrives best in rich, moderately deep to deep loose soils (loams, sandy soils) that have good structure and drainage. Its growth is poor in heavy soils, and it can tolerate a wide range of pH, from acidic to slightly alkaline.
This plant is indifferent to sunlight conditions for the formation of its stems and tuberous roots. It adapts to periods of drought and cold.
|Spanish||Yacón Jacón llacón, arboloco Puhe, jicama, jiquima, jikima, jiquimilla.|
|Quechua||llakwash, aricoma, jícama y algunos derivados de éstos, como llaqon, llacum, llacuma, yacumpi, aricuma chicama, jícama, shicama, jíquima, jiquimilla, llacjon, llacon, puche, puhe, llacón, yacón, yacuma|
|Aymara||Arizona, yacuma o yakuma y arikoachira, aricoma o aricuma, Ancona|
|In Ecuador||jicama, con derivaciones como chicama, shicama, jiquima y jiquimilla.|
|English||jiquima y jiquimilla|
Helianthus esculentus Warsz. ex Otto & Dietr.
Polymnia edulis Wedd.
Polymnia sonchifolia Poepp. et Endl.
Smallanthus sonchifolius (Poepp. et Endl.)
Smallanthus: nombre genérico que fue otorgado en honor del botánico estadounidense John Kunkel Small (1869-1938) más el sufijo anthus = “flor”.
Sonchifolius: epíteto compuesto latíno que significa “con las hojas de Sonchus”
La palabra Yacón, por su parte, procede de la voz quechua Q.I. o Waywash, yakun, flexión sustantiva de la voz yaku que nombra el agua, seguramente porque el yacón es bastante jugoso.
Geographical Distribution of Yacon
Cajamarca, Cuzco, San Martín, Huánuco, Pasco, Apurímac, Puno, Amazonas
Seasonal Availability of Yacon
Varieties of Yacon
There are 3 native varieties of yacon:
Nutritional Value of Yacon
Adding to this list of benefits is phosphorus, which ensures energy and, like calcium, a healthy skeletal system in the human body. Its absence could lead to weakness, anemia, and brittle bones.
Yacon is a tuber that provides various health benefits. It is rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which promote glucose absorption in peripheral tissues and regulate blood sugar. It also helps lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and preserves bone mass. Its soluble fibers increase satiety and, due to its low calorie content, support weight loss and regulate the intestines, promoting bowel movements and balancing or eliminating pathogenic bacteria.
Furthermore, it is rich in chlorogenic acid, a phenolic compound that offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This suggests it might prevent certain types of cancer, like colon cancer, improve the immune system, and regulate blood pressure.
Yacon contains inulin, an undigestible sugar, making the roots suitable for cholesterol and diabetes treatment, while also increasingly used as a prebiotic and sweetener.
Lastly, it contains significant amounts of phosphorus, calcium, iron, and vitamins B and C.
Health Benefits of Yacon
Yacon is rich in soluble fibers with prebiotic effects and exerts antioxidant action in the body.
Contraindications or Side Effects
Excessive consumption of yacon can lead to:
Renal and hepatic issues
Digestive disorders like indigestion, excessive gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, especially in individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Allergic reaction / anaphylactic shock
|10 Porciones por Kilogramo|
|Tamaño de porción||100g|
|Cantidad por porción
|Cantidad por 100g|
|Grasa Total||12.7 g|
|Carbohidratos totales||74.9 g|
|Carbohidratos disponibles||73.8 g|
|Fibra Dietaria||1.1 g|
|Vitamina A||0 μg|
|Tiamina (B1)||0.04 mg|
|Riboflavina (B2)||0.04 mg|
|Niacina (B3)||0.50 mg|
|Vitamina C||0.00 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 Yacon
Uses of Yacon
Yacon is a food primarily used in culinary industries for both its flavor and medicinal properties. Additionally, it is increasingly utilized in the processed food and cosmetic industries.
Culinary Use of Yacon
Yacon has a slightly sweet and fruity taste and is consumed primarily in countries like Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, and New Zealand.
Yacon can be eaten as fresh fruit or in the form of juice. Its leaves can also be used to make infusions, and an extract is prepared from its root, which is then sold in capsule form.
In Andean markets, yacon is sold as a fruit alongside others like cherimoya, apples, pineapple, etc., rather than in the potato, oca, ulluco, etc., sections.
To consume it raw, you only need to remove the skin. Its taste is sweet, and after a period of sun-drying, its sweetness intensifies.
Yacon can be eaten raw or cooked in salads, as a dessert, or as part of a dish. Thanks to its crunchy texture, it is used to make chips and stir-fries. Yacon flour is used to make bread, tarts, and cookies. It is also used to make chancaca, sweeteners, and pickles.
Medicinal Use of Yacon
Yacon exhibits the following medicinal benefits and properties:
- Helps prevent and treat diabetes
- Supports weight loss
- Rich in antioxidants
- Has anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects
- Improves digestive health
- Promotes heart health
- Protects liver health
- Enhances bone density
- Has diuretic properties
- Prevents anemia
- Increases male fertility
- Possesses antimicrobial properties
Industrial Use of Yacon
Yacon is highly valued in the cosmetics industry, which is why it can be found in essences and concentrates. Additionally, due to its nutritional properties, there is a wide variety of processed products made with yacon, including cereals, flakes, energy bars, snacks, flour, honey, powder, dry concentrate, tea bags, tablets, and many others.
In recent years, YACON has gained significant importance in the food and medicinal industries, as it is one of the few plants from which industrial quantities of insulin can be obtained. Insulin derived from yacon can potentially replace sucrose, which is found in sugar and contributes to health issues like diabetes.
Furthermore, the export of this plant is on the rise in Peru. We export yacon in various forms: flour, syrup, juice, concentrate, extracts, fresh and organic yacon, to countries such as Japan, the United States, and some European countries.
Ritual Use of Yacon
The Incas attributed magical powers to quinoa, turning the planting and harvesting of the crop into religious celebrations. However, when Spanish conquerors arrived in the Andean countries and learned of the significance of quinoa, they rejected and prohibited it. It is believed that they acted this way out of fear of the "magic quinoa," as consuming quinoa and engaging in religious ceremonies involving it might grant indigenous people extraordinary strength and endanger their conquest.
Presently, Yacon is used in traditional Andean rituals as an offering to Pachamama, and the "Quinua Mama" festival is still celebrated in Puno. According to Inca traditions, at the beginning of the quinoa harvest in the Andes, ancient Peruvian farmers conducted a special invocation to "Quinua Mama," the pre-Hispanic goddess of the grain, for a bountiful harvest. This ritual involved toasting the first seeds while girls and women crafted dolls from quinoa leaves and grains, which were kept for a year and then burned as a symbol of renewal.