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Botanical Name Polymnia sonchifolia Poeppig & Endlicher

Family Compositae (sunflower family)

Synonym Polymnia edulis Weddell, Smallanthus sonchifolia 10

Common Names

Quechua: yacón, llakuma

Aymara: aricoma, aricona

Spanish: yacón, jacón, llacón, llamón, arboloco, puhe, jícama (not the common jicama of commerce, see page 39), jíquima, jíkima, jiquimílla

English: yacon, yacon strawberry, jíquima

French: poir de terre Cochet

German: Erdbirne

Italian: polimnia

Origin. Yacon grows wild in Colombia, Ecuador, and probably Peru, and it is commonly naturalized at medium altitudes in South America. It has been found in pre-Incan tombs in Peru, indicating a wide dispersal in early times.

Description. Yacon is a handsome, compact, herbaceous plant with dark-green celerylike leaves. The aerial stems can reach 2 m in height, and are hairy with purple markings. Small, daisylike yellow or orange flowers are packed close together at the top of the plants and on additional stems arising from the lower leaf axils.

Yacon tubers are irregularly spindle-shaped to round (somewhat resembling those of the garden dahlia) and can vary considerably in shape, size, and sweetness. Fused to the swollen stem (4–5 or even 20 in a bunch), they splay out like fat spokes from a hub.11 On the outside, they are tan to purplish brown, but inside they are white, yellow, purple, orange, or yellow, sometimes with magenta dots. A tuber usually weighs 200–500 g, but can reach 2 kg.

10 The genus Smallanthus has been suggested for yacon and many of its relatives (H. Robinson. 1978. Studies in the Heliantheae (Asteraceae). XII. Re-establishment of the genus Smallanthus. Phytologia 39(1):47-53.)
11 Yacon actually produces two types of edible underground portions—rhizomataceous stems (used by the plant for vegetative reproduction) and tuberous roots (used by the plant for food storage). The swollen roots are preferred for eating as they are sweeter, juicier, and not fibrous. The stems, although succulent when young, coarsen (lignify) as they mature.

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