|Roots of Yacón|
|Smallanthus sonchifolius |
(Poeppig and Endlicher) H. Robinson
| Polymnia sonchifolia Poeppig and Endlicher |
Commonly called "jicama" in Ecuador, yacón is sometimes confused with this unrelated plant. Yacón is actually a close relative of the sunflower and Jerusalem artichoke. The plants produce propagation roots and storage tubers. Propagation roots grow just under the soil surface and produce new growing points that will become next year's aerial parts. These roots resemble Jerusalem artichokes. Storage tubers are large and edible.
These edible tubers contain inulin, an indigestible sugar, which means that although they have a sweet flavor, the tubers contain fewer calories than would be expected.
Yacón plants can grow to over 2 meters in height and produce small, yellow inconspicuous flowers at the end of the growing season. Unlike many other root vegetables domesticated by the Indigenous Peoples of the Andes (olluco, oca), the yacón is not photoperiod sensitive, and can produce a commercial yield in the tropics.
Yacón provides for two nutritional products: the yacón syrup and yacón tea. Both products are popular among diabetic people and dieters because the sugar these products contain is not absorbed by humans. This form of sugar, known as FOS (fructooligosaccharide), a special type of fructose, leaves the body undigested. The syrup is also a prebiotic which means that it feeds the friendly bacteria in the colon that boost the immune system and help digestion.
Yacón cultureYacón can easily be grown in home gardens in climates with only gentle frosts. It grows well in southern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, where the climate is mild and the growing season long. It has recently been introduced to the Philippines, and is now widely available in markets. Yacón has also recently been introduced into farmers' markets and natural food stores in the United States.
Propagation roots with growing points can be planted in a well-dug bed in early spring, near the time of the last expected frost. While aerial parts are damaged by frost, the roots are not harmed unless they freeze solid. Yacón is a vigorous grower much like Jerusalem artichokes. The plants grow best with fertilization.
After the first few frosts the tops will die and the plants are ready for harvest. It is generally best to leave some in the ground for propagating the following spring. Alternatively, the propagating roots can be kept in the refrigerator or buried away from frost until spring. While usable-sized tubers develop fairly early, they taste much sweeter after some frost.