Curious plants: Yacon

At Te Puna Quarry Park this morning when “butterfly lady” Mary Parkinson pulled a piece of yacon out of the boot of her car and asked if I wanted a bulb or two. The Vege Grower was adamant that he didn’t – but I wonder if he would have been more interested if Mary had referred to it as an “underground pear”?

Smallanthus sonchifolius (yacon) is a tuber vegetable native to South America – and are related to both sunflowers (yacon flowers are like small sunflowers) and Jerusalem artichokes (see the photo of the crowns and tubers below).

A young yacon plant – they can grow to 2m. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Yacon is a perennial with tubers that look a bit like smooth kumara (sweet potato). Mary says they can be eaten raw or roasted. This article from the Guardian tells you more about growing them and includes a couple of recipes – the comment that they are an acceptable form of dietary sweetness for diabetics is interesting.

Mary’s root clearly shows the small bulbs that grow the leaves, and the tubers that form from a shooting bulb. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The Yacon NZ website includes growing information and recipes. The website owners grow their crop just outside Hamilton and sell yacon crowns on TradeMe. Country Trading also has yacon crowns for sale, the white variety, as does the Koanga Institute.

This article from the Southland Times gives a bit more information about the nutritional value of yacon and says the plants have only been grown in New Zealand since 1982.

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