Ask the Chef: Featured Ingredient - Yacon

by Julie Morris, Navitas Naturals Executive Chef
April 16, 2013

YaconQ: I’ve seen your dried yacon and yacon syrup around, but don’t find it in many smoothie recipes. What is it exactly, and how do I use it?

-Shelly M.

Though yacon is a relative of the sunflower (Compositae), this plant is not grown for flowers or seeds, but rather primarily for its large yellow root. Native to the Andes, yacon is now found in most areas of South America where it both grows wild and is cultivated in the medium altitudes, and has been discovered in pre-Incan tombs in Peru. Even more recently, it is being introduced in Southern Asia, New Zealand, Southern Europe and subtropical zones of the United States like California and Florida. In its native landscape, the root is usually sold and treated like a fruit eaten fresh like a crisp apple and mixed in with fruit salads, juiced into a refreshing drink, stewed until soft like a sugar beet, cut into slices and sun-dried (often referred to as yacon “chips”), and even boiled and concentrated into a dense sweet syrup. At Navitas, we offer yacon in two forms: the sweet yacon syrup and sun-dried slices.

Yacon has a sweet secret to share: its carbohydrates are composed of inulin (FOS up to 67% of dry matter) – a type of sugar composed primarily of fructose that humans do not have the enzyme to digest, which means it simply passes through the body. This means yacon can be used as a sweetener without having a significant effect on blood sugar levels. It also means that for all its sweetening power, yacon is relatively low in calories – a tablespoon of yacon syrup is a meager 20 calories, a third of the calories of agave nectar or honey. Yacon has a long history of use in regions of South America like Bolivia as an aid for both diabetics and people with digestive problems. Although yacon’s power comes primarily from its use as a true “healthy” sweetener and low glycemic food, as a root, it also offers an array of minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, iron and a good amount of potassium; as well as some vitamins like A, B1, B2, B3 and C.

Often referred to as the “apple of the earth” yacon has a sweet and mild flavor that’s a cross between an apple and a beet with a hint citrus and earthy smokiness. It goes particularly well with apples, pears, bananas and oranges, as well as warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

To use yacon slices in smoothies, soak the slices in warm water for 30-45 minutes, or until soft and well hydrated (use both the slices and the water in a smoothie), and treat it just like adding a fruit. You can also use yacon syrup in virtually any flavor of smoothie as a low-glycemic sweetener. We absolutely love this superfood for its healthy sweetening power!

For more information, Navitas Naturals has produced two informative videos about the cultivation and health benefits of Yacon:

 

 
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