Yacon (smallanthus sonchifolius), a member of the sunflower family and a relative of the Jerusalem artichoke, has been cultivated by the Inca in Peru for hundreds of years. The edible part, which looks like sweet potatoes, is very low in carbs and low on the glycemic index. The tubers can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable or eaten fresh like a fruit. Some describe the taste as being like a cross between apples and potatoes; others describe it as a combination of apples and watermelon (??). It can be cooked down to form a syrup which can be used like honey, maple syrup, or molasses. One/fourth teaspoon of the syrup is equal to one teaspoon of sugar or honey in sweetness. The syrup can be dried to make a powder.

Here is a quote from Macamart (http://www.herbdealer.com/macamart/products.php?cat=20), a site where the syrup can be purchased:
“Yacon contains fructooligosaccharaides (FOS), which cannot be metabolized in the human body. This means Yacon does not raise blood glucose levels and is safe as a replacement sweetener for diabetics or others wishing to avoid sugar.”

This is from the Live Super Food site (http://livesuperfoods.com/search/LSF060.html), another source for yacon syrup:
“Yacon root is considered the world’s richest source of fructooligosaccharide (FOS), a unique type of sugar that can’t be absorbed by the body. FOS acts as a prebiotic, serving as food for the “friendly” bacteria in the colon, and preclinical studies have indicated that consumption of FOS may help increase bone density and protect against osteoporosis. Because the sugar in yacon is mostly FOS, the syrup is low in calories and is a good sweetener for use by dieters and diabetics.”

It is said to aid digestion, enhance absorption of calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins, and to improve the elimination of toxins. It acts as a prebiotic, providing food for the friendly bacteria in the colon and may reduce the risk of colon cancer. FOS is also high in antioxidants and potassium. Other benefits noted from FOS supplementation include increased production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate.

Is there a down-side? Only one that I know of. It is expensive. The small jar (8.5 ounces) of syrup that I bought at Whole Foods was, I think, about $14.00. Ouch! I later found better prices online, but the shipping may bring the price up to close to what I paid. As with many other products, however, if we create a demand, the price will go down as the sales volume goes up. Agave, for example, used to be very expensive and difficult to find and the nasty stuff (it’s almost all fructose) is available everywhere now and in a range of prices.

I had hoped to plant some yacon, which is reputedly very easy to grow and adaptable to a range of climates, but I couldn’t find roots or seeds and it is probably too late now. I’d love to hear from anyone who has had any experience with growing yacon plants or with using the roots or syrup in recipes.

I’m excited about the possible applications for this new (to me) food, as well as several others that I am playing around with. One interesting thing I’ve learned so far: I proofed yeast with yacon syrup and with regular sugar and xylitol for comparison. I was very surprised and pleased to discover that the dish with yacon bubbled exactly like the one with sugar, while the xylitol, predictably, did nothing. So apparently yeast can digest yacon, but we can’t. That would be cool, don’t you think? (Or maybe it just means that it contains regular sugar. I’m trying to find out.)

(c) 2009, Judy Barnes Baker

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