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Page 27


Achira (Canna edulis) looks somewhat like a large-leaved lily and is closely related to the ornamental cannas widely grown in both temperate and tropical zones.1 It was probably one of the first plants to have been domesticated in the Andean region. Easy to plant and easy to grow, it develops huge, edible underground rhizomes2 sometimes as long as a person's forearm.

Although little studied by modern scientists, these starch-filled rhizomes are produced throughout a vast region that extends from Mexico and the West Indies to Venezuela, through the Andes and the Amazon basin to Argentina, and along the Pacific coast to northern Chile. In much of this area achira is a market vegetable, but only in Peru and southern Ecuador is it a substantial crop.

Some achira is simply cooked and eaten. Most of the plants, however, are used to produce starch. In this process, the rhizomes are shredded, the grated material dumped into water, and the fibrous pulp separated from the heavy starch by decanting. The starch is then sold for use in foods as well as in other products, such as sizing and laundry starch.

This plant could have a much brighter future as both a food and a cash crop. Its starch has the largest granules ever measured. They can actually be seen with the naked eye and are three times the size of potato-starch granules, the current standard for starch-granule size. Because of its extraordinary proportions,3 the starch settles out of solution in a few minutes, freeing it from impurities in little time and with minimum expense. The starch is clear and, when cooked, is glossy and transparent, rather than opaque like that of potato, corn-starch, or common arrowroot.4 The cooked starch seems to be easily

1 Indeed, some ornamental cannas are sold under the same botanic name as achira. However, the blossoms of true achira are much smaller than those of the ornamental cannas.
2 Strictly speaking, these are corms; their growing tips are at the stem end of the swollen underground parts.
3 Achira granules are about 125 micrometers long and 60 micrometers wide (see page 28).
4Maranta arundinacea.

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