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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Judy Barnes Baker

The working title for my first book was, “You’ll Never Know What You Are Missing.” It summed up my goal: to make eating for health synonymous with eating for pleasure. Once you discover the secret, you will find that the very best food for weight management, longevity, the treatment and prevention of disease, and over-all health and happiness is also the most sumptuous, satisfying, and indulgent way of eating the world has to offer. You are invited to the feast. Enjoy!
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David Isaak
14 years ago

I too wish I had more info about this plant.

The problem is, of course, that the way they measure "sugars" for labeling purposes includes large amounts of polysaccaharides we can't digest. Yogurt and kefir are two clear examples.

If you drain most of the whey out of kefir or yogurt, you end up with something that has a tiny carb load–but a lab will still report "sugars". It's frustrating.

14 years ago

By the way I’m in the city and using a different computer and different internet system – maybe that is the difference?
Anyhow, will try to post from home again and see if the comment stays. Really a puzzle – when you say you had the same problem posting to my blog.

I don’t know if we get Yacon. We get Yuca,but that’s different. lol

Judy Barnes Baker
14 years ago

Hi Jennifer, nice to hear from you. I’ve had the same problem posting comments on your blog! Glad this one made it through.

I since heard back from some of the companies that sell yacon–they insist that it is indigestible in spite of the fact that the labels list it as all sugar and no fiber.

Can you buy fresh yacon where you are? It should grow there.

14 years ago

I hope this comment stays. 🙂 I’ve tried to comment before but keep losing ’em.

Interesting! The downside is definitely the price and funny about the yeast reacting to it and digesting it, whereas we can’t.

I’ve been meaning to write. Will soon.

T. Evangelista
T. Evangelista
6 years ago

I bought a small seedling at the local farmers’ market (Volcano, HI) and the damn thing grows like a weed. I just harvested about 5 lbs of tubers and there were at least 6 root bases to replant and will soon be more than I ever need. The plants look like stunted sunflowers and last 3+ months and then die back. That’s when tubers are ready to eat.

Bruce Maley
5 years ago

I found a plant split it up and it grew well. Kids loved digging it up and enjoyed the produce. Have kept some of the root bases and will try and replant.

3 years ago

I found yacon crowns on-line at One Green World based in Portland, OR. They may be out of stock for the season but you can get put on a waiting list. They are very easy to grow and they do multiply. I started out with 3 crowns and now have about 20. I’ve tried them roasted but like them best raw – either in salads or just cut into spears and eating as a snack.

Chris Odbratt
Chris Odbratt
2 years ago

Hi Judy !
Did you ever find out what was going out with the yeast fermenting the Yacon sugars ?

Chris Odbratt
Chris Odbratt
Reply to  Judy Barnes Baker
2 years ago

Thanks Judy !!