Nine native Andean root and tuber crops hold economic and nutritional importance for subsistence farmers in the Andes. They grow at high altitudes under extremely difficult conditions of drought, freezing temperatures, and UV exposure.
Oca produces the second most widely cultivated tuber after potato. It is hardy and frost resistant, with long, cylindrical tubers from white to deep grayish purple. High in protein, with a good balance of amino acids, it is also a good source of fiber, and high in antioxidants.
Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus)
Ulluco is the most widely recognized and commercially viable of the ARTC’s, popular for its taste. It is easy to grow, frost resistant, and is moderately drought resistant, although the plant prefers soils that are rich in organic matter.
Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)
Mashua is one of the highest yielding Andean tubers (yield can reach 70 tons per hectare) and one of the easiest to grow. It thrives on marginal soils, develops rapidly, and competes successfully with weeds.
Yacon is a distant relative of the sunflower. With white or yellowish transparent flesh, the root has little variability. Its name comes from the Quechua word yaku alluding to the root’s high water content. The roots are eaten raw and are sweet, low in calories, with a juicy flesh similar to that of an apple or watermelon.
In the Andes, yacon is often grated and squeezed through a cloth to make a sweet refreshing drink. In Spanish colonial times it was used as a food for sailors.
Today, yacon is especially sought after for its health properties. The roots contain oligofructose, a sugar that the human body does not metabolise. It is the main ingredient used to make syrup for diabetes patients. The leaves are used to make infusions and pills for lowering cholesterol.
Ahipa is the name the Inca gave to the highly nutritious legume root produced by the American yam bean (Pachyrhizus spp). The large root is shaped similarly to a radish with a thick top tapering toward the tip.
Maca is something of a unique, wonder crop. The only cruciferae known to have been domesticated in the Americas, it is found only in Peru, growing at altitudes over 4,000 meters, where no other crop gives reliable yields.
Arracacha is from the same family as celery and carrot. The three main varieties, with their distinctively yellow-, white-, and purple-colored roots, are often intercropped with maize, beans, and coffee.
Arracacha produces high returns on investment, and is a high-value cash crop for poor farmers.
The perennial achira is from the same family that produces the exuberant, showy canna lilies found in florist shops and gardens worldwide. Also known as edible canna or Queensland arrowroot, it was a staple food for ancient Peruvians.
Mauka (Mirabilis expansa)
Scientists had thought that this colorful root had all but disappeared. Although the species has been described since 1794, it remained in obscurity until 1965, when it was rediscovered in a remote rural community in Bolivia.
Well known to the Andean population for generations, the considerable health benefits and medicinal properties of ARTCs are now beginning to attract the interest of a wider audience. All are good sources of starch, vitamin C, and calcium. Other characteristics of some include potential anti-cancer, immune-boosting, cholesterol reducing, libido enhancing, or other positive properties. Nutrition Table
Where ARTCs Grow
The Andean region is one of the most important centers of crop origin in the world. It is a Vavilov center of diversity – one of the regions of the world first indicated by Dr. Nikolai Vavilov to be an original center for the domestication of plants – and contains a high diversity of domesticated crops and their wild relatives. The main nine Andean root and tuber crops (ARTC) are spread throughout South America from southeastern Venezuela to northwest Argentina, with the greatest diversity concentrated in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Where ARTCs Grow