Growing and eating the South American vegetable – Yacon
In September 2015 I planted yams, kumara and yacon. I’ve never tried yacon before but I’d read alot about it. It’s a South American tuber which is very good for us (apparently). It sounded like it tasted interesting and is simple to grow so I was keen to try growing it.
I bought 4 yacon rhizomes online from Koanga Institute. I see them for sale on Trade Me also.
In September I planted them into my regular garden soil with the rhizomes buried – they were already starting to sprout so I kept the sprouts poking out.
These grew into healthy plants fairly quickly with little intervention. Nothing seemed to bother them – I had no problems with slugs, snails, caterpillars or aphids which have got to the other plants so I didn’t need to fuss over them which was great. They got the odd feed of worm wee over summer and I kept them watered though not diligently. In autumn they started flowering with small yellow flowers.
From what I’d read the tubers should be dug up once the plant starts dying back in autumn so I dug up one of the four plants during the last week of May. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how to keep them so I left the others in the ground. This was eight months since planting so a long time in the ground – like my yam and kumara harvest I was hoping all that time hadn’t been wasted!
The first lot were muddy and I washed them off and laid them out to dry but this was a mistake as they turned mushy after several days and were inedible. I didn’t realise at this point that one lot of tubers was the rhizome which I should have kept to re-grow – I’d put that in the worm farm thinking it was no good. Oops (just as well I hadn’t dug them all up). The regrowing ones are the pinkish looking rhizomes joined to the plant in the photo to right. The rest are tubers for eating.
It can all be dug up at once or left in the ground over winter to regrow in spring (just dig out the tubers as needed). As an experiment I dug up two of the remaining plants, removed all the tubers for eating and storage and potted up the rhizomes for regrowing and put them in the greenhouse. The last plant I left in the ground along with it’s tubers. The plant can be affected by frost so I cut the leaf right down. My ideal will be to ‘tickle’ the tubers away each year without needing to dig the whole plant up so I’m interested to see how this plant survives. (June 2017 update – see notes on re-growing it at the end of this post).
The tubers were very easily damaged with my trowel. Even when pulling them out by hand I snapped a couple into pieces so needed to be careful getting them out. Some had grown down quite deep and were in the clay base but seemed happy enough.
My four plants produced some decent sized tubers so yield per space was good.
Yacon is a South American plant and appears to be fairly common but I struggled to find recipes. Mostly it seems to be eaten raw as you would cucumber as a salad vegetable. The taste and texture has been described in a variety of ways: texture wise like nashi pears and water chestnuts, taste wise anywhere between apple, pear, celery, watermelon. Raw I would say crisp like a nashi pear in taste and texture with a subtle ginger like spiciness. The skin is very soft so when just harvested it didn’t need peeling – it would easily rub off but on storage it’s got tougher and needs peeling.
- When cooked in a crockpot type stew it held it’s firm texture well although didn’t add flavour to the dish.
- Roasted it doesn’t behave like potatoes or kumara which soften and fluff up – again it stays firm but soft to eat so added a nice difference to a mix of roast vegetables.
- Make a salad with grated raw beetroot, grated yacon, lemon juice, black pepper and mint. (If you don’t have yacon use grated apple). Grate the yacon and drain it before adding to the rest. The beetroot will hide the fact the yacon is turning brown (see photo below).
- Slice as part of a salad into sandwiches and wraps
- It is often used in a fruit salad with the yacon soaked in lemon juice. I haven’t tried this yet – probably because it’s winter and it seems like a summer dish but I think it would work well.
Along with my kumara and yams I kept them in the hot water cupboard for a few days to dry out. Several had broken or were damaged when I dug them up so I kept these separate to use first. Mould started growing so I quickly realised they needed to be kept in the fridge – they’ve kept there for several weeks ok. The cut end turned brown but this can be cut away when using. The unblemished ones I put in a tray and stored on a shelf along with the yams and kumara which over a month on seem to be doing ok.
Yacon was very easy to grow and has a lovely taste and texture but the biggest downside is it’s quickness to oxidise (turn brown) which looks quite unappetising although didn’t seem to affect the taste. To stop that happening soak the cut or grated pieces immediately in lemon juice. I was surprised to find that after soaking then draining it it didn’t taste too lemony (which I wouldn’t have minded) but you would end up going through alot of lemon juice this way. Alternatively you could mix lemon juice and water. At this time of year I’ve been using it cooked in the crockpot rather than raw in salads and you don’t notice the oxidation that way. Unlike potato or kumara it doesn’t turn to mush after a day of cooking so it adds some nice texture to the stew.
It supposedly has many super duper health properties ie low in calories and is an antioxidant but an unprocessed vegetable is healthy anyway so I’m not putting it ahead of the other vegetables we eat yet . Hopefully it’ll store well because it’s crisp rawness suits summer rather than winter eating.
I’ve got the rhizomes potted up and hopefully they’ll be ready for planting this spring as I’m keen to give it another go. I think it’s something that could work in the kitchen and the ease of growing it is a big plus for me.
It’s June 2017 and I’m updating the original blog from 2016 with how successful I was on keeping the rhizomes to grow for next year:
Growing yacon year after year
In 2016 I experimented with a couple of different ways to keep the yacon rhizomes to grow for next year. I kept one in the ground and cut the leaf back so it wouldn’t be affected by frost. I had potted up four or five lots of rhizomes – and in September I planted out two. While they all grew really well and seemed similar in size and health the plant I’d left in the ground to grow was the least successful. Many of the tubers had rotted and I didn’t have many edible ones. Perhaps there had been some tubers left with the plant which started to rot and caused new ones to also degrade. I liked the idea of just being able to leave the plant in the ground and harvest from it year round but this didn’t seem to be the case. In early 2017 I checked in the soil for tubers but they hadn’t formed properly until this month.
A few years on – do I still say ‘Try It’
I’m sticking with my recommendation to try growing it. I’ll gently lift the whole plant each year in autumn and pot up some rhizomes to plant out the following spring. The potted plants didn’t need to be in the greenhouse – those that were outside were fine. I still managed to damage a few of the tubers when harvesting them again this year, plus some had been eaten by hoppers or tiny snails (I have mysterious holes in these plus my kumara this year) so I’ve got lots that needed to go into the fridge or get eaten straight away. We’ve been enjoying it more as we’ve found more ways to eat it – grated or cubed into a salad is good. It adds a nice crunch to a soup that would otherwise be mushy texture wise. It doesn’t need much cooking – add some very small cubes to the last few minutes of cooking. Roasted as pieces or chips is also good. It browns up well but is nice and crunchy still.