The Ingredient: Yacon

A unique root with a sweet taste.

This perennial has been growing in the northern and central Andes for centuries, yet only recently started showing up on North American shelves. While the yacon plant has small yellow flowers and often grows more than two metres high, it’s the root itself that’s so good for you.

Yacon is harvested by digging the potato-like root out of the soil. Sold in Edmonton in dry, powder or syrup form, yacon’s high nutritional and medicinal value makes it a incredibly popular superfood. “It has a lot of nice benefits to the human body. Sometimes you don’t get that combination of good for you and tastes good,” says Barry Knight, a health and wellness consultant at Earth’s General Store on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. 

Yacon is grown around the world in home gardens. In the 1980s, it came to Japan and from there spread to other Asian countries, including China and the Philippines. Versatile, tasty and healthy, it’s no wonder yacon root is so popular. It can be consumed raw, baked or in syrup form and can be used in everything from muffins to chai tea. If you do get your hands on this natural sweetener, there are a lot of easy ways to enjoy it.

 The Look

This South American root is a member of the sunflower family. Plants produce large celery-like leaves and, beneath the soil, grow yacon’s juicy and edible roots, which “almost look exactly like a sweet potato in size, texture and colour,” says Knight. The root is both sweet and crispy, and is eaten as a refreshing snack in the Andes.

 The Varieties

Yacon is a versatile plant that can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, baked, prepared into a syrup or dried and ground up into powder. Yacon powder and dried yacon “chips” are sold at Noorish Conscious Eatery and Superfood Elixir Bar in Edmonton.

The yacon chips resemble dried pineapple rings, according to Sheniz Kassam, co-owner of Noorish. “The powder is 10 times more functional,” she says, and a popular choice to put into smoothies, pastries and desserts. The powder form of yacon can be used as a substitute for sugar in recipes ranging from muffins to ice cream. “It’s very attractive to those who want sweetness without the consequences of sweetness,” says Knight.

At Earth’s General Store, yacon is sold in both a powder and syrup form. The syrup is more popular and can be used in place of maple syrup or honey, says Knight. The syrup has a sweet taste similar to caramelized sugar while the raw form of yacon is described as a sweet cross between apples, watermelon and celery.

 The Benefits 

Yacon is a natural sweetener that claims anti-aging properties. Yacon is rich in antioxidants that could help fight cell oxidation, which expedites the aging process. It acts as a diuretic and is an excellent source of prebiotics, meaning it’s good for both urination and proper digestion. The roots contain fructooligosaccharides, which taste sweet, but have low caloric value and won’t raise your blood sugar.

“You can have the taste sensation in your mouth and the texture in your dessert but, as it goes through the GI tract, it is simply expelled through the bowel,” says Knight. “It’s attractive to those who don’t want to spike their blood sugar levels.” And, if that weren’t enough, yacon is also good for colon health and helps with the absorption of minerals. 

 The Use

The easiest way to introduce yacon into your life is to replace maple syrup or honey with yacon syrup, or substitute yacon powder for sugar. Or, follow Knight’s lead and put a dollop of yacon syrup in your chai tea. “The syrup form looks like molasses but tastes like slightly tart maple syrup. I just find it has a beautiful, beautiful taste,” he says. If chai isn’t your cup of tea, a teaspoon of the powder form of yacon is an easy and tasty addition to any smoothie. 

Did You Know …

It’s not often that a sweetener gains a superfood title. But with yacon, not only do people claim it has grand health benefits, it’s also lower in calories than other sweeteners. (Keep in mind, when a food is lower in calories, that does not mean it is nutritionally better than another; and the following comparison does not take sweetening strength into consideration)

Yacon: has about 20 calories per tablespoon.

Sugar: has about 48 calories per tablespoon.

Honey: has about 64 calories per tablespoon.

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