Ancient Incan Inspired Yacon Smoothies

Do you want a taste a yacon smoothie, an ancient health drink popular among the Incas?

  • Yacon thrives in just about any area that receives constant moisture and moderate heat. The plants need a long growing season, and the tubers form in fall when the length of day shortens.
    Photo courtesy

Anyone skimming the internet these days is bound to notice the high-energy hoopla surrounding miracle cures promised by the boosters of yacon extract, yacon syrup, and other yacon elixirs. The valid medical properties of yacon have been well-known for centuries: South Americans have long understood yacon’s value as a “fruit” useful to diabetics. Yacon does not cure diabetes; its special sugars are simply diabetic neutral. In short, it’s an alternative to food that diabetics should not or cannot eat.

You’re not familiar with yacon? It’s still a specialty crop in the United States, but due to its low calorie content, dietitians with one eye on weight loss have started putting it on health spa menus. The newest trend is the yacon smoothie.

The only hitch is that the idea is not entirely new: the Incas considered yacon a health drink many centuries before anyone knew how to spell the word smoothie. In fact, they probably invented the idea. Let’s review a little bit about the history of yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius).

Inca Tonic

Yacon (pronounced ja-KON) is a Spanish adaptation of two Quechua words yacu and unu, terms for two different kinds of water. The core idea behind the Quechua name is “water plant,” something you eat raw for its juice, or something you drink. So in that sense the original Inca name meant smoothie, at least to them. Yacon thrives in just about any area that receives consistent moisture and moderate heat. The plants need a long growing season, and the tubers form in fall when the length of day shortens.

The New World twist to this story is that yacon is not like sugar cane dripping with syrup. It’s a crunchy tuber shaped very much like a yam or sweet potato. When eaten raw it has the snap of apples combined with a hint of celery. This unique fruit-or-veggie flavor is one reason yacon is so adaptable to smoothie recipes: you can make a fruit drink from it, or a vegetable mix, or a combination of both. Thus yacon is an ideal foundation ingredient.

If you travel to Peru or Bolivia where yacon is still an integral part of local diet, you will find it sold among the fruits and melons. And you will also see street vendors whose sole product consists of various kinds of yacon smoothies. So much for reinventing the wheel!



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