Michael: The sign stated that yacon (pronounced yah-cone) has many health benefits such as reducing cholesterol and triglycerides as well as helping to regulate blood pressure. They had my attention. I starred down at a basket of dirt covered things with a look similar to that of sweet potatoes. The lady cut a piece devoid of skin and handed it to me. It had the consistency of an apple, but more sweetness and juicier.
Graciela: After a lovely lunch outside of Bogotá we decided to stop in the pueblo of Tenjo for an afternoon coffee. One side of the town square had tents with vendors. That is where we encountered Native Farms. Colombia has a large biodiversity with a great number of organic plants used for medicinal purposes. It is not unusual to see someone sell the different fruits, vegetables and herbs at markets.
Michael: My wife is being modest about her country. Doctors and veterinarians in Colombia often prescribe natural cures. Research done by an Australian group showed that some of the natural products work better than pharmaceutical synthetic medicines. A friend of ours is working with the military to find natural cures for soldiers operating in the jungle and other hostile environments.
Graciela: I grew up with my mother knowing and using many of these natural medicines. However, yacon was new to me. We therefore purchased both the roots and a tea that is made from the leaves of the plant.
Michael: I began my tests of the product by eating a couple inches of the tuber each day. I even used it in a stir-fry along with vegetables. It gave the dish a very nice sweet taste. Others told me that it is very good in salads because of its sweetness. And I heard that some people bake it. That is still to be tried.
The tea is excellent. My wife and I have found it to be a very enjoyable evening drink. The taste is much better than any green tea we have had. Plus it has anti-oxidant properties and other helpful benefits.
Graciela: Since the time of the Incas yacon has been grown in the mountains of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia. Some refer to it as the Peruvian ground apple or the Bolivian sunroot. It is actually a relative of the sunflower.
Michael: There are many claims about the benefits. Some are scientific and some are less so. But many have stated that the root is excellent for diabetics. While sweet, the sugar is not absorbed by the body. Much more information is available on the Internet in English as well as Spanish.
The Indians of South America have used it for years. It helps with constipation and is good for the intestinal tract in general by producing good bacteria. It is even used for skin rejuvenation.
Scientific tests have shown other benefits. For those worried about calcium, it promotes the absorption of the substance. A fact sheet from the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru also states that yacon reduces cholesterol levels, strengthens the immune system and reduces carcinogen lesions in the colon. Research also shows it effective in combating some cancer and fighting arteriosclerosis.
On the less than scientific level it is said to help people reduce weight. To my knowledge, the people of South America have never used it for that purpose. Based upon a small sampling, some people say it works.
Graciela: A problem is that the yacon root is very perishable. You almost have to eat it the same day it comes from the ground. We tried the ones we bought from Native Farms and they were excellent. Later we purchased a root from a store where it had been for a few days. The taste was terrible. Research also states that it looses much of its benefits.
Consequently to get yacon it needs to be in a different form. Many places sell a syrup made from tuber. If the manufacturer is a good one using fresh roots then you get a good product. I have even seen yacon chips, but we can find no research showing it they retain the properties of the root. Of course there is also the tea.
Michael: I felt very good eating the raw tuber and believe it to be a great snack. If you are in the area of Tenjo or Native Farms I definitely suggest you give the substance a try. For diabetics in the USA I highly recommend the syrup to add some sweetness to your diet. For others, perhaps it can help you loose weight. If nothing else the tea has a great taste and is good for you in possibly keeping those veins of yours from clogging up.