Some of the best features of Yacon are its taste and texture, ease of growing, long storage life of the tubers, adaptation to a wide range of soils, tolerance of a range of temperatures, and its versatility – it can be used in both vegetable and fruit salads, or eaten as a crisp fruit after peeling. The taste is sweet and a bit like an apple, perhaps slightly more “carroty”.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Yacon is that its carbohydrate is stored as a type of fructose in the form of inulin. This differs from most other roots and tubers, which generally store carbohydrates in the form of sucrose – the sugar we are most familiar with. The good thing about Yacon is that fructose is not used in the human body, so the tuber is an ideal food for diabetics or others who want sucrose-free (non-fattening!) food. On the other hand, Yacon does not have a great deal of other food value – it is eaten more as a novelty and for its taste, juiciness and crunchy texture. Apparently, in South America, a sweet drink is made from its juice.
Yacon is a leafy plant and grows up to 1.5 metres. It is related to the sunflower family, and has small yellow flowers a bit like miniature sunflowers. It is best planted in spring and summer. When the tops wither and die down, (about 6 months after planting) it is ready for harvesting. Flowering is not sensitive to day length. Occasionally, the plant can maintain itself as a perennial, but my experience is that they start to die off in autumn.
The tubers are dug with a fork, and small ones kept for re-planting. I also divide up the root clumps, which have many nodules from which new plantlets grow.
For eating, the tubers are best left in the sun for a few days or a week, until the skins shrivel a little. This sweetens the tuber even more. They will keep up to several months in a dark, dry place – if you don’t eat them before that!
Yacon plants can be found in several nurseries around Brisbane. I thoroughly recommend growing Yacon, as it looks after itself, will grow happily in sunny and semi-shaded spots, looks good in the garden, and best of all, tastes great! Ref: Jenny Awbery