Yacon is one of the ‘lost crop of the Incas’. How intriguing is that?
I recently met a young woman from Colombia on a flight to Italy. We had a surprisingly effective conversation, considering that she couldn’t speak English, and I can only bumble along in Spanish. She was from Medellin, where food is bland and fried, but enlivened by abundant tropical fruit. I told her about my grandmother, Clotilde Narvais who came from Trujillo in Peru. Warming to my subject, I showed her the photos of my yacon plants, grown on my allotment in Derby. She examined them politely: she had clearly never heard of the stuff. Sensing my disappointment, she kindly observed that there were many different root crops (“racinas”) of the Andes, unknown in the West.
Which brings me back to the ‘lost crop of the Incas’.
Yacon is a tuber, rather like a small sweet potato in shape, which you peel and chop. It is juicy, crunchy and tastes a bit like pears, so is perfect for winter salads. And if you store it for a couple of weeks, the natural sugars become more concentrated, and it tastes sweeter.
As it was an unknown vegetable to me, I ad-libbed this salad with yacon, chopped green onion, coriander leaves, chopped green chilli, pomegranate seeds and a handful of currants, dressed with lime juice and salt. The yacon was a calm, pure background to the other more fiesty flavours.
I originally picked up some yacon tubers at Pennard Plants , a plant nursery based in the west country, specialising in unusual edible plants and heritage seeds. You may like to check them out.
I planted the tubers, which grew into large plants with huge, soft, felty leaves. I let them grow on, pretty much ignoring them, until the first proper frost killed the leaves, and that’s the signal to dig up the tubers.
Once dug up, you carefully separate the tubers from the crowns. The tubers you wash and keep for food. They store well in a cool dark place, providing you with the basis for winter salads. Keep the crowns in dry compost, (rather like you might keep dahlia tubers) in a cool, frost free place to overwinter.
Then in the spring, bring them into the light and give them some water. Once they have sprouted, you can plant them up in a pot, but remember they are tender, so grow them on in a frost free place. When all danger of frost is past, plant them out in the sun and voila! you have new plants.
Yacon plant, a native of Peru
If you grow your own veg, I would recommend this plant. It’s easy to grow, requires no pampering and slugs are not interested.
And here’s a request. If you come from Peru, or have eaten yacon before, would you kindly tell me if there are other ways to prepare it?