The package had come from The Real Seed Company, a great little organisation who sell seeds and tubers and positively encourage growers to propagate their own from this starting point. They are one of the few sources of a tuber called Yacon. It's not cheap, but they promise to supply three tubers with an absolute guarantee that at least one will grow.
As it was, I received four tubers and all of them grew! As with other similar perennial crops, such as Jerusalem Artichoke, Chinese Artichokes and Comfrey, I have found that a modest initial investment gives me a crop for life which I can increase by division as much as I choose.
A little bit more about Yacon, also known as Aricoma or Poire de Terre (Pear of the ground). It is another of those Andean tubers. Looking like an overgrown dahlia tuber, it gives rise to an attractive plant which grows to about 4 foot tall with large, architectural leaves. Late on in the year it is topped by small yellow flowers which belie its relationship to sunflowers and Jerusalem Artichoke. And like the latter, the sugars contained in the tubers of Yacon have special qualities (though so far at least not the flatulence inducing qualities of 'Fartichokes'!)
The tubers contain fructooligosaccharide, (fruck-toe-olli-go-sack-a-rides... I think) which taste sweet but which contain virtually no calories. As you can guess, there is a lot of interest in such a crop from the diet industry as well as potential uses for diabetics. Furthermore, fructooligosaccharides (that word again) have a prebiotic effect, meaning they are used by beneficial bacteria that enhance colon health and aid digestion.
|The yacon plants just after they had been hit by the first frosts|
But of course, what you're really wondering is "are these just another trendy crop which doesn't actually grow very well in this country or taste very nice?"
|10 kg of yacon tubers|
The most attractive feature for me, though, is its texture. It is wonderfully crisp and stays firm and crunchy even when cooked, a little like water chestnuts. Many sources recommend cutting it julienne style and incorporating it into stir fries. I have tried this and it worked very well, but I have also tried it diced into vegetable dishes and it has added crunchiness and taken on the flavours and spices of the rest of the dish. Overall an exciting new addition to the kitchen larder.
The only downside I have found so far is that it browns on cutting so needs to go into lemony water, but it is browns nowhere nearly as badly as, for example, an apple.
As for storage, I am treating my yacon tubers like potatoes. They are sacked up in a dark cupboard in the garage. I am hoping they keep well this way.
The tubers I refer to are the large tubers found growing under the crown of the plant. But above that are a different type of tuber, the growth tubers. These are next year's plants.
The advice on the delivery packet was to cut these into 1 inch segments and store in cool, dark conditions protected from frost. When it came to it, there was a very grey area where growth and storage tubers all seemed to merge into one large mass. So I have stored what I can - if I've got it right, I could end up with about 100 viable plants next year! Then I read somewhere else to store the whole crown until next spring. Fortunately the part of the crown nearest the growth points was very tough to cut, so I actually ended up with a couple of crowns anyway. All of these are now stored in compost and sand filled containers hanging from the beams in the garage to protect them both from frost and from rodents.
Unfortunately none of my livestock seem to relish the taste of yacon as much as I do. The geese, the chickens and the sheep have all turned their noses up! I may try some on a friend's pigs though, as I know that Jerusalem artichokes are supposed to be an ideal food for their digestive system. If they like it, I may well be finding a space to grow all hundred plants next year if the tubers make it through.