I like to try new things. Yacon (Polymnia sonchifolius) is an old plant, said to have been eaten by Incan warriors, but it is relatively new to most of us in the USA. Also known as Bolivian sunroot, it has been a staple food in the Andes for centuries. After deciding to give it a try this year, I got my tubers from Nichols Garden Nursery, but they are available from several other sources including Seeds of Change which has a nice writeup about them.
The yacon plant has two different kinds of tuberous roots. The smaller tubers from the crown are used to start new plants, much like dahlias, while the larger, fleshy storage tubers can be eaten either raw or cooked. The flavor is variously said to resemble jicama, apples, celery or potatoes. I don’t know myself, but I won’t have to wait much longer to find out. You see, today is Yacon Digging Day!
Nutritionally, the tubers provide a good source of fiber and are low in calories. The roots contain high levels of inulin, which is a sugar that the human body can’t easily break down, and are also prebiotic, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract.
With all that going for it, it’s a wonder we haven’t heard more about the amazing yacon before now. Mother Earth News did an article on it which helped bring it to the attention of more people (me included), plus it increased the demand for the tubers used to start plants. Many of the catalog sources report selling out early in the last few years.
The plant yielded just over 5 lbs of edible tubers, which is not bad for the first growing season. The yield is supposed to be higher in subsequent years. The juice from the roots is also extracted and cooked down to make yacon syrup, which is available in many health food stores. It’s supposed to be prebiotic as well. I bought some, and I think it tastes a lot like sorghum.
My plant grew to about 4 ft tall this season, and wasn’t bothered by any insects or other problems. I planted it in average soil, and mulched around it with newspaper to keep down weeds and conserve moisture. My plant didn’t bloom, but the plant does usually have small yellow flowers if the growing season is long enough. It was as easily grown as Jerusalem artichokes, though not invasive since the roots don’t spread but stay in one place.
The crown of the plant has numerous small, knobby tubers that resemble ginger or Jerusalem artichokes. I broke the crown into smaller pieces for easier handling. They should be stored in peat moss or another dry medium in a cool, dark place until planting, which is done 2-3 months before the last frost date in spring.
The tubers store for up to 8 months in a cool dark place – the same conditions for storing potatoes. They are supposed to sweeten in storage, and are edible even if shriveled up. I couldn’t wait to sneak a taste of one of the smaller tubers. It reminded me of jicama, mild flavored and very crisp, but it was juicier than jicama. I look forward to eating more of them as they age, and to planting them again next year.