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Yacon – Properties, Origin, Types, Characteristics, Contraindications

Yacon Benefits and uses

Find out below what is yacon, what are its characteristics, its nutritional properties, its health benefits, the best way to consume it, possible contraindications and other curious facts about this tuber.

What is yacón?

The yacon ( Smallanthus sonchifolius ) is an edible tuber native to South America. Its appearance is similar to that of a sweet potato; It is covered by a rough, semi-thick, red-brown skin. The meat of the yacon is beige-orange in color, has a juicy-crunchy texture and a sweet taste reminiscent of other foods, such as jicama , apple, watermelon, pear and celery.

Some varieties of yacon can have purple, pink, red, orange or yellow skin and flesh, in addition to presenting slight differences in flavor.

Fun facts and features

  • The yacón is native to South America, where it was an important food source for indigenous peoples for more than a thousand years. Several local legends say that yacon was widely used by messengers when they had to make long trips, not only for its energy supply but also for its ability to hydrate the body.
  • The consumption of yacon almost completely stopped after the Spanish invasion, however it has regained popularity as a dietary sweetener, especially in Peru and Japan.
  • This tuber can be eaten cooked or raw; It is usually used to make juices, syrups, roasted, baked, and even fried in a similar way to potatoes .
  • The yacón plant is related to the sunflower plant and the topinambur ; It grows wild in countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
  • The sweet taste of this edible root comes from its high content of fructooligosaccharides.
  • The word yacón means “watery root.”
  • In addition to being a food source, many cultures have used yacon as part of their traditional medicine.
  • The large leaves of the yacón are widely used to wrap certain foods during cooking.
  • Yacon remains have been found in pre-Columbian tombs in Peru. Evidence suggests that the yacón root could have been used as an offering during festivities celebrating deceased ancestors during the Moche era of Inca history.

Nutritional properties of yacón

Yacon tubers are composed mainly of inulin, fructooligosaccharides and water. That makes it  an extremely low calorie food , and it means that most of its sugars are indigestible by the human body (they pass through the digestive system, providing a feeling of fullness without adding calories or turning into glucose).

Although yacon is not a significant source of vitamins and minerals, it does help the body to improve the absorption of these components from other foods . Its most notable nutrients are fiber, vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and vitamin C, and essential minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.

A 100-gram serving of yacon contains approximately:

  • 54 calories
  • 12.5 g of carbohydrates
  • 0.3 gr protein
  • 86.6 gr of water
  • 0.3 g of fat
  • 0.5 gr of dietary fiber

What is yacón for? Benefits and uses

Numerous studies have observed that, thanks to its high content of fructogliosaccharide compounds , yacon exhibits the following health benefits and properties :

  1. Helps prevent and treat diabetes
  2. Promotes weight loss
  3. It is rich in antioxidants
  4. Has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects
  5. Improves digestive health
  6. Promotes heart health
  7. Protects liver health
  8. Improves bone density
  9. Has diuretic properties
  10. Prevents anemia
  11. Increases male fertility
  12. Has antimicrobial properties

Learn all the details about these and other benefits in: 11+ Proven Properties of the Andean Yacón (Fresh Root, Syrup)

How to consume yacón?

In its native region, yacón root is usually consumed in its natural form, that is,  raw . Because it has such a pleasant and sweet taste, the tuber is simply peeled and eaten.

But it can also be eaten cooked; Its mild sweetness makes it compatible with other different flavors, and it can even remain relatively firm and crisp after long cooking. Yacón is usually consumed fried , in soups , stews or roasts , and can be used as a total or partial substitute for the apple in juices ,  jams and other desserts .

In places where fresh tubers are not available, yacon can be found in powder form, dried chips, supplements, capsules, tea bags, and syrups.

  • Dust . Yacon powder, also known as yacon flour, can be added to juices or baked goods to increase its fiber content and reduce sugar intake.
  • Dry . Dried yacon can be eaten as a snack to improve digestion and reduce cravings for other foods.
  • Capsules . Yacon supplements or capsules can be used to regulate blood sugar or for digestive purposes.
  • Tea . This is another popular way to consume yacon to keep sugar in check and improve digestion.
  • Syrup or extract . As its name suggests, yacon syrup is a natural sweetener extracted from the tuberous roots of this plant. It is considered a good substitute for sugar, being especially beneficial for people with diabetes.

Recommended recipe: Loin and yacon stew

Contraindications and possible side effects

Consuming the yacon tuber as part of a balanced diet is considered safe in most cases. Its moderate consumption has not been linked to side effects or negative consequences for health. However, when you eat excessively or exceed the recommended dose of a long-term supplement, for example yacon syrup or capsules, then complications are likely to arise.1.

Its main adverse effects include:

  • Kidney and liver problems
  • Digestive disorders, especially in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Allergic reaction / anaphylactic shock

All the details in: Do you know the Contraindications of Yacón? Dosage and Side Effects

Frequent question

Does yacon make you fat?

Yacon is not fattening, in fact, it has been shown to promote weight loss. This tuber contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS) that are impossible to digest by the human digestive system, hence it does not add additional calories. In addition, the intestinal bacteria that feed on the FOS contained in yacon release short-chain fatty acids that have slimming properties. These FOS are also helpful in controlling appetite, by reducing levels of the hunger hormone (ghrelin).

What is the origin of yacón?

The yacón plant is native to South America, it grows wild specifically in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This tuber was an important food source for the Andean peoples before the arrival of the Spanish to the continent, but its consumption almost disappeared once the colonization took place. It has recently regained popularity as a sweetener and dietary supplement.

What is the yacón plant like?

The yacón plant grows from 1.5 to 2.5 meters in height; it usually produces between 4 and 20 fleshy, spindle-shaped and tuberous roots, which can reach 25 cm in length and 10 cm in diameter.

The stem of the yacón is cylindrical and green-purple in color. Its leaves are around 33 cm long and 22 cm wide, and its flowers vary from orange to bright yellow.

How is yacón grown?

Yacon is an easy and tolerant crop that needs plenty of water, but tolerates the heat of continental summers well. Either way, it is an Andean crop, so it performs better in temperate climates. It requires some protection against strong winds, since they can crush its leaves.

It is recommended to sow the shoots of the plant in soil covered with compost or manure, leaving 1 meter of distance between each shoot. Yacon is a fast growing crop, so it will be ready to harvest in about 5 months. It is an Andean tuber free of pests and diseases.

What does yacón taste like?

The texture and flavor of yacón are very similar to those of jicama , differing mainly in that yacón has slightly sweet, resinous and floral nuances (like apple fruit). Many describe the flavor of this tuber as a mix between jicama, apple, watermelon, pear, and celery.

What other names does it have?

Other common names for yacón are jacón, llacón, llamón, arboloco, puhe, Peruvian apple, jíquima, jíkima, jiquimilla. The scientific name of the yacon plant is smallanthus sonchifolius or polymnia sonchifolia (synonym).

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