I've been growing yacon for a few years now. I've found it easy to plant, to grow and to keep growing year after year. As far as my favourite kind of plant goes (easy care perennial) it gets a big tick. Edible? Absolutely. Yield? Yacon gives me an awesome yield per space - far more than potatoes, kumara or yams. Start growing yacon.
What is it?
Yacon is a South American tuber which is apparently very good for us. It can be eaten raw or cooked. It has the texture of a nashi pear with a subtle gingery spiciness. It's downside is that it oxidises (turns brown) if the tubers are damaged when harvested or when peeled which is why I think we don't see if for sale. In the home kitchen and garden that's easily dealt with (see below).
Plant the rhizomes in spring (in New Zealand this means I plant in September) in friable soil in a sunny spot. The tubers are easily damaged when dug up so the more friable the soil the better. Space at least 30cm apart. This year I planted them in pots as my veggie garden was in the process of being moved when I wanted to get them in the ground. They did ok in pots but did need more watering attention than if they'd been in the ground.
The rhizomes grow into healthy plants fairly quickly with little intervention. Nothing seems to bother them - I don't have problems with slugs, snails, caterpillars or aphids. I feed a little worm wee over summer and I keep them watered, especially this year in the pots but they will survive being underwatered. In autumn they start flowering with small yellow flowers.
Dig up the tubers in autumn once the leaves have started to die back. They are fragile and damage easily so lift them gently. Keep the pinkish looking rhizomes to replant again in spring. The plants can be lifted as required rather than all at once but don't leave them sitting in waterlogged heavy soil as they'll start to rot.
Your own conditions will dictate how long you can leave them in the ground. For me in Auckland, New Zealand this is May/June. I harvest one plant at a time - using the small tubers first and setting aside undamaged large tubers for storage. I lift them all by early July. Watch my video below - it shows you how to harvest your yacon and what it should look like.
Yacon is a South American plant and appears to be fairly common but I struggle to find recipes using it. Mostly it seems to be eaten raw as you would cucumber as a salad vegetable. The taste and texture has been described in a variety of ways: texture wise like nashi pears and water chestnuts, taste wise anywhere between apple, pear, celery, watermelon. Raw I would say crisp like a nashi pear in taste and texture with a subtle ginger like spiciness. The skin is very soft so when just harvested it does't need peeling - it would easily rub off but on storage it's got tougher and needs peeling. It's biggest downside is that it oxidises (turns brown) once cut - see photo below. To stop that happening soak the cut or grated pieces immediately in lemon juice.
Cook in a crockpot type stew or soup. It holds it's firm texture well
Roasted it doesn't behave like potatoes or kumara which soften and fluff up - again it stays firm but soft to eat so adds a nice difference to a mix of roast vegetables
Make a salad with grated raw beetroot, grated yacon, lemon juice, black pepper and mint. (If you don't have yacon use grated apple). Grate the beetroot first then the yacon and mix the two immediately. The beetroot will hide the fact the yacon is turning brown (see photo below)
Use in a tzatzihi style sauce. Grate yacon, squeeze out liquid and use in yoghurt instead of cucumber.
Roast in the oven like chips
Slice as part of a salad into sandwiches and wraps
Recipes use it in a fruit salad with the yacon soaked in lemon juice. I haven't tried this yet - probably because it's winter when I harvest it and it seems like a summer dish but I think it would work well
Let the tubers dry and gently brush soil off to clean them. Large undamaged tubers will store for several months. If any have damage to the skin keep these in the fridge and eat first as the exposed skin will start oxidising and eventually rot the whole tuber. Small tubers shrivel and don't store well so also use those first.
Growing yacon year after year
When harvesting the tubers pot up the pink rhizomes to plant out for the next season. They will be in a dormant state so it's not crucial to get them potted up straight away - mine are often laying somewhere dry before I get them into pots. Think of them as a bulb. I've tried leaving plants in the ground to regrow but this hasn't produced new tubers very well.
Have you tried growing yacon? How did it go for you?