Ask Peter: Yacon
Klaus Laitenberger, a master gardener based in Ireland, has been in touch to ask Peter whether he knows of any farms growing yacon and/or yams that he could visit on a trip to New Zealand in May. Please let us know if you have any recommendations and we will pass these details on to Klaus or you can contact him directly through his website greenvegetableseeds.com. And now that we are talking tubers, here are some previous notes from Peter on the yacon.
The yacon/yakon is an interesting tuber for all sorts of reasons, but one that’ll no doubt interest food scientists and commercial folk is that although it’s very sweet, the type of sugars it contains (inulin) aren’t easily digested by the human body, so you don’t really put on any weight eating them. You get the benefit of sweetness but none of the bad association. I’ve seen yacon syrup for sale in the US and it’s used a little like mild maple syrup or agave syrup on cereals, fruit salads, cocktails and the like. I used to think these vegetables from the Andes were related to jicama (or yam bean) but it turns out they’re not even distant relations. In fact the yacon’s closest edible relative most people would know is the Jerusalem artichoke — which in turn is the cousin of the sunflower.
What does it look like?
For those who don’t know what a yacon even looks like, they are round tubers between 300g-1 kg. They look like a smooth fat squat cassava. The crisp inside flesh, however, is glossy, white and shiny, and the texture when eaten raw is rather like a jicama or water chestnut, but with a mildly slimy texture. If that hasn’t sold it to you, then I apologise, as it’s quite a funky vegetable. Mostly you eat them raw, as you would a water chestnut or jicama, but you can cook them, if only briefly.
Ways to use it
To use, wash any dirt from the skin, then peel. Have a bowl of slightly acidulated cold water to hand (1 litre water and 3 tablespoons lemon juice or 1½ of white vinegar).
Cut the white flesh into thin rings (a mandolin is good for this) or into matchstick shapes and add immediately to the water to prevent discolouring. The yacon can then be used in salads or added to a stir-fry. If using in a stir-fry add right at the end, as it really doesn’t need any cooking.
- You can toss the thin slices, drained and patted dry, into a salad with other crisp veges or fruit — pineapple, apples, celery, pomegranate, pears etc. Toss with whichever dressing you have at hand and serve straight away.
- You can also mix yacon with thinly sliced smoked chicken and toasted macadamias and toss with a wasabi mayonnaise.
- You can peel a yacon then grate it, along with a carrot or two, and mix with lots of picked whole tarragon leaves and thinly sliced spring onions. Add something like cooked quinoa and crumbled feta, or soaked bulgur wheat and halved cherry tomatoes. Use whichever sharp dressing you have (maybe add some finely chopped lemongrass) and serve with grilled meat or fish.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to [email protected] and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.