The Yacón is a perennial plant grown in the Andes of Perú for its crisp, sweet-tasting tubers. The texture and flavour are very similar to jicama mainly differing in that yacon has some slightly sweet resinous and floral (similar to violet) undertones to its flavor. This flavoring is probably due to a sweet substance called inulin, as replicates the sweet taste found in the roots of elecampane, which also contains this substance. Another name for the yacón is Peruvian ground apple. The tuber is composed mostly of water and fructo-oligosaccharides.
Commonly called “jicama” in Ecuador, yacón is sometimes confused with this unrelated plant. Yacón is actually a close relative of the sunflower and Jerusalem artichoke. The plants produce propagation roots and storage tubers. Propagation roots grow just under the soil surface and produce new growing points that will become next year’s aerial parts. These roots resemble Jerusalem artichokes. Storage tubers are large and edible.
These edible tubers contain inulin, an indigestible sugar, which means that although they have a sweet flavor, the tubers contain fewer calories than would be expected.
Yacón plants can grow to over 2 meters in height and produce small, yellow inconspicuous flowers at the end of the growing season. Unlike many other root vegetables domesticated by the Indigenous Peoples of the Andes (olluco, oca), the yacón is not photoperiod sensitive, and can produce a commercial yield in the tropics.
Yacón provides for two nutritional products: the yacón syrup and yacón tea. Both products are popular among diabetic people and dieters because the sugar these products contain is not absorbed by humans. This form of sugar, known as FOS (fructooligosaccharide), a special type of fructose, leaves the body undigested. The syrup is also a prebiotic which means that it feeds the friendly bacteria in the colon that boost the immune system and help digestion.
The leaves of the yacón contain quantities of protocatechuic, chlorogenic, caffeic and ferulic acids which gives tea made from the leaves prebiotic and antioxidant properties. As a result, some researchers have explored the use of yacón tea for treating diabetes and for treating diseases caused by radicals, e. g., arteriosclerosis.