The yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is a tuber native to Latin America that is part of the Ateraceae family, which used to be the Compositae family. The plant can grow up to one and a half meters tall and the roots have a high water content and sweet flavour. The edible root’s pulp is a clear colour on the inside, with shades of crystal, while the skin is either brown or black. Similar to a yucca, the root’s dimensions depend on the cultivation and oil conditions where it grows. Up to 80% of the plant is consumed, as the branches, roots and flowers are all edible.
Yacón is a perfect ingredient for sauces, herbal teas, syrups, jams and desserts. The pulp can also be dehydrated to conserve it at length. The plant also has certain medicinal characteristics, like its beneficial effects on cholesterol and the digestive system, its high calcium content and the fact that it strengthens the immune system.
Yacóns are planted in September and harvested in May or June of the following year. Cultivated without pesticides, this plant is frequently mixed-cropped with corn, medicinal plants and fruit trees in home gardens. The plant is often cultivated with corn and beans because together these crops improve the land’s resources. The yacón has always been a part of the most traditional eating habits in the area, and represents an important link between the local people and their land.
The plant is grown for personal consumption and a part of the harvest is sold in informal markets only when there is a surplus. Over the past decade the tuber has gained popularity in other parts of Colombia as well as Cundinamarca, Cauca, Tolima, Huila, Risaralda, Boyacá and Valle del Cauca departments.
This product has also recently begun to appear in national markets, mainly for its medicinal qualities. Be that at is may, in Colombia the yacón is in danger of extinction due to the fact that the younger generations don’t know about the plant’s countless nutritional and therapeutic properties.