Although potatoes are now almost universally known about there are other Latin American root crops that were left behind by the Spanish conquistadors and have had little publicity outside their original areas of production. Yacón is one such example, a distant relative of the sunflower it produces roots roughly the size of sugar beet and its leaves are used as a tea.
The Yacón’s root is sweet to taste – but the sugar it contains – fructans cannot be digested by the human gut which has stimulated some interest in the crop as a source of sweetness for people on a diet or suffering from diabetes. Although the human gut cannot absorb the sugar contained in Yacón it is beneficial to the health of good bugs in our digestive system. Yacón products from the Province of Jujuy in North West of Argentina were on display at this years Terra Madre, the Fundacion para el Ambiente Natural y el Desarollo a Slow Food Presidium are raising awareness about the benefits of Yacón. There have been efforts to increase local consumption and there have been training activities for use, as well as biodiversity fairs and increase sales at local markets. Links to local schools have also highlight properties of the root. Yacón roots were originally used as a dessert – but are increasingly being used for savory dishes like salads. Five families were originally keeping the production going in the area but this has now grown to more than 60. Everyone gets involved in the harvest and little is wasted the stems are used for animal feed. Older members of the community have played an important role in keeping the diversity alive. In common with many minority crops – it has suffered from a low status and the producers the Yacónaros have in the past were not considered an important part of society, but their image is now changing and there is even a local football team named in their honour!
Yacon tea on sale in Peru
© Andrew Ormerod 2013