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Page 47 Arracacha Arracacha (Arracacia xanthorrhiza) is botanically related to carrots and celery, and it incorporates qualities of both. Below ground it produces mostly smooth-skinned roots that resemble white carrots. Above ground it produces green, sometimes purple-streaked stems that are boiled or eaten raw like celery. At present, arracacha is known only in South America and a few parts of Central America and the Caribbean. However, like its famous relatives, it could become a familiar crop throughout much of the world. Arracacha (pronounced ar-a-catch-a) is rich in flavors and is one of the tastiest foods to be found anywhere. 1 Native to the Andean highlands from Venezuela to Bolivia, it is often grown instead of potato because—although it takes longer to mature than modern potato cultivars—it is produced at only half the cost. Nonetheless, it was so overlooked in colonial times that it wasn't given a scientific name until 300 years after the Spanish Conquest. Today arracacha is almost as little known scientifically as it was at the time of Pizarro, but it is eaten in most Latin American countries as far north as Costa Rica. Usually it is grown only in small gardens for local use. However, the roots are sold in considerable quantities in the larger cities of Colombia and the rural markets of northern Peru. It is also found in Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Recently, arracacha has gained popularity in southern Brazil and has become an established vegetable in the city markets. 2 It is grown in big fields using modern techniques. While characteristic of relatively high elevations in the Andes, the plant is being produced in Brazil at 1 The late David Fairchild, dean of United States plant explorers before World War II, considered it “much superior to carrots.” The great Soviet plant explorer, S.M. Bukasov, said, “There's nothing more tasty in the world than arracacha.” Thousands of inhabitants of the Andes, as well as many visitors, agree. 2 The species was introduced into Brazil at the beginning of this century, and in recent years its cultivation has become a big industry. More than 10,000 hectares are grown in the states of São Paulo, Paraná, Minas Gerais, and Santa Catarina. It is usually known as mandioquinha salsa. Information from A.C.W. Zanin.
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Page 48 low elevations with climates like those of many warm-temperate regions of the world. Thus, it seems probable that Brazil's experience is demonstrating arracacha's future potential for regions such as North America and southern Europe. People outside Latin America could soon be enjoying these underexploited roots just as the Incas did 500 years ago. PROSPECTS Andean Region. This crop is a good candidate for expanded cultivation in its native region. For example, it has been tested in the eastern valleys of the Andes, where it was previously unknown, and it yielded well there. Given research attention, it is likely to become a major product at intermediate elevations throughout the 4,000-km-long Andean region. Other Developing Areas. Arracacha could become a valuable root crop in all tropical highlands, particularly if improved cultivars and cultural techniques are developed. The potato has already become successful in Nepal and Burundi. Arracacha (and the other Andean tubers) should now be introduced—using recognized quarantine procedures—to the highlands of Asia and Africa for experimental trials. Cultivation should be tested in the highlands and hill country of East Africa, Central Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and similar regions. Remnants of old introductions may still exist in the highlands of Central America and the West Indies; local agronomists should investigate. As noted, arracacha has received little research attention, but, with modern technology, is being successfully cultivated in Brazil. Many countries of Latin America and elsewhere seem likely to reap direct benefit from this experience. Industrialized Regions. In North America, Europe, Japan, and other temperate regions, arracacha is likely to become commonplace. The roots should prove highly acceptable to millions of consumers. In the United States, they are already found in Boston's produce markets (shipped from Puerto Rico), 3 and locally grown arracacha is available in a few markets in the San Francisco Bay area. 4 The plant has also been introduced to Australia. 5 3 Information from R. E. Schultes. 4 Information from C. Rick. 5 It is being grown at Nimbin, New South Wales. Current cultivars produce little root, but are relished for the huge celerylike stem. Information from M. Fanton.
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Page 49 ~ enlarge ~ Typical arracacha roots from the produce market at Medellín, Colombia. The roots resemble parsnips in form and color, but they have a mild flavor, sometimes reminiscent of celery. (W.H. Hodge) USES Young, tender arracacha roots are eaten boiled, baked, or fried, or are added to stews. They have a crisp texture; white, yellow, or purple flesh; and a delicate flavor that combines the tastes of celery, cabbage, and roasted chestnut. During cooking they emit a fragrant aroma. These roots are a common ingredient in the typical Andean stew (called “sancocho”) that is particularly popular in Colombia and some highland areas of Peru. Indeed, most soups in Colombia contain arracacha. In addition, much of Brazil's arracacha crop is made into dried chips that impart a pleasant and distinctive flavor to dehydrated soups. A famous Switzerland-based company uses it to flavor one
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Page 50 dried soup that is popular throughout Brazil. In rural Costa Rica the roots have become particularly popular in wedding feasts. Parts other than the roots are also used. The young stems, which are sometimes blanched, are used in salads or as a cooked vegetable. Although edible, the central root has a coarse texture and strong flavor, and it is usually fed to livestock. The foliage is also used as fodder. NUTRITION The roots have a starch content ranging from 10 to 25 percent. The starch granules are quite small, similar in many respects to those of cassava. The starch is easily digested and can be used in foods for infants and invalids. During storage the roots increase in sweetness, presumably because some starch hydrolyzes to sugars. All parts of the plant have particularly high calcium content. The roots, with their bright yellow flesh, are undoubtedly rich sources of vitamin A. AGRONOMY Arracacha is traditionally propagated with offsets or shoots that are produced on the crown of the main rootstock. 6 After removal, the base of each offset is slashed repeatedly to stimulate the shoots to form and to encourage a uniform arrangement of lateral roots. The offsets are left to “heal” for 2–3 days and are then planted, usually in holes along furrows. Although arracacha may be planted throughout the year, in southern Brazil it is generally set out in the early spring, and at the beginning of the rainy season in the Andes, where it is often interplanted with potatoes. HARVESTING AND HANDLING The tubers are normally harvested 300–400 days from planting. Immature tubers may be dug after 120–240 days. At harvest time there may be as many as 10 lateral roots (each about the size of a carrot) aggregated around the central rootstock. 6 Although it is possible to propagate with seed, germination is normally less than 50 percent, and in some cases no seed is produced. Nonetheless, seeds are extremely useful for plant breeding.
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Page 51 ~ enlarge ~ Arracacha plant. Although the roots are the main product, the stems are also edible and look and taste rather like celery. (W.H. Hodge) The farmer retards flowering by breaking the leaf stems, thereby increasing the root size. Harvest time is determined by snapping a finger against the lateral roots and judging the maturity by the sound. (Some growers harvest as the leaves begin to yellow, just prior to flowering.) At harvest, the entire plant is uprooted. This is a productive crop. Yields normally vary between 5 and 15 tons per hectare; test plots have yielded as much as 40 tons per hectare. 7 One plant may produce 2–3 kg of edible lateral roots. LIMITATIONS Arracacha seems to have several agronomic limitations. Although exact photoperiod restrictions are not known, specific daylength requirements may explain why it is not more widely grown. The roots have a longer growing period than potato. The plant is not frost tolerant. Harvesting cannot be delayed past the flowering stage; roots left in the ground become fibrous and tough and develop a strong, unpleasant flavor. Arracacha is particularly prone to spider mites and is susceptible to nematodes in some regions. Viruses (and perhaps mycoplasms) have 7 Information from R. Del Valle.
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Page 52 ARRACACHA IN PUERTO RICO* In a small area of Puerto Rico, farmers have been growing arracacha (under the name “apio”) since at least 1910. Today, for many, it is a staple food. Between Barranquitos and Orocobis, in the highest parts of the island, at least 300 hectares of arracacha are currently grown. Rotated with cabbage, taro (dasheen), and especially cocoyam (tannia), arracacha provides an important food as well as some profit from sales in roadside stands and town markets. It is likely that the germplasm of this yellow-fleshed variety came from the Dominican Republic, where arracacha is also grown at higher elevations. The crop has always been localized, unstudied, and unappreciated by most Puerto Ricans. However, in 1980, agronomist Reinaldo Del Valle of the University of Puerto Rico introduced 12 cultivars from Colombia. In replicated experiments in Barranquitas, these Colombian arracachas were compared with the local Puerto Rican “criollo” cultivar. The highest yield—21 tons per hectare from the Colombian cultivar “A”—was almost twice what is considered a good yield for the criollo. On the other hand, the criollo appeared to be more tolerant of local diseases and pests. The introduced plants were especially affected by root rot (caused by Rhizoctonia, Pythium, and Fusarium species) and insects, and some were also damaged by rats and snails. In a second trial, preventive applications of insecticide and fungicide were made at two- or three-week intervals throughout the growing season. Cultivar A again produced the highest commercial root yield, 38 tons per hectare, while another Colombian cultivar yielded 23 tons per hectare, and the criollo yielded 15 tons per hectare. Del Valle suspects that yields of all types could be greatly improved, particularly by correcting micronutrient imbalances in local soils (deep clay) and by giving more attention to the problem of root rots. been isolated from some roots, but their importance has yet to be evaluated. The roots have a relatively short storage life—similar to that of cassava. Unlike carrots, they can be eaten only after cooking. RESEARCH NEEDS Arracacha is likely to prove a valuable root crop in many areas of the world if attention is given to determining its horticultural requirements, improving cultivars, and selecting good types. Studies of the pathogens infecting the crop should be made, especially
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Page 53 ~ enlarge ~ Although it is not a big crop in Puerto Rico, arracacha is well established in the upland areas. Many farmers there depend on it, and the demand—especially in the mainland United States—is increasing. Because the region where arracacha grows is as low as 600 m elevation, Puerto Rico's experience indicates that the crop could have a big future in many tropical and subtropical regions. (N. Colón) * Information from R. Del Valle and N. Colón. of viruses, 8 before arracacha is introduced to new areas. Liberal introductions to new environments seem justified, but in areas where carrots and celery are important crops, information on possible disease and pest transmission is required before final decisions on its safety can be made. Tissue culture propagation seems a likely method for eliminating viral diseases. It is necessary to explore seed physiology, viable seed production, and the variability obtained from sexual propagation for use in potential breeding programs. Wild varieties, such as Arracacia aequatorialis, A. elata, A. moschata, and A. andina, are found in southern Ecuador 8 Information from A.A. Brunt.
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Page 54 and northern Peru. They should be sought and preserved for their possible use in future breeding programs. Analyses of the relative nutritional merits of existing varieties should be carried out. SPECIES INFORMATION Botanical Name Arracacia xanthorrhiza Bancroft Family Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) Synonym Arracacia esculenta DC Common Names Quechua: laqachu, rakkacha, huiasampilla Aymara: lakachu, lecachu Spanish: arracacha, racacha, apio criollo (Venezuela); arrecate (Latin America); racacha, virraca (Peru); zanahoria blanca (Ecuador) Portuguese: mandioquinha-salsa, mandoquinha, batata baroa, batata salsa, batata cenoura English: arracacha, racacha, white carrot, Peruvian carrot, Peruvian parsnip French: arracacha, panème, pomme de terre céléri Origin. Arracacha has probably been cultivated as long as any plant in South America. Its wild ancestor is unknown, although there are many semidomesticated types that may include arracacha's progenitor. The greatest germplasm variation is in Ecuador and adjacent areas of Colombia and Peru. Description. This perennial is a stout herb, somewhat resembling celery in form. It is one of the largest of the cultivated umbellifers, and the crushed stems and roots have the aroma characteristic of the family. Stems and leaves usually attain a height of about 1 m and are ensheathed in dark green or purple leaves. Flowers are purple or yellow, small, and formed in flat clusters on stalks radiating from a central stem. Although many flowers are fertile, arracacha is generally harvested before completing a seed cycle. The cylindrical central root bears numerous lateral roots that are 5–25 cm long and swollen to 2–6 cm in diameter. Their flesh ranges in color from white to yellow or purple, with a creamy white exterior. In some types, a cross section of the main root shows attractive rings of various colors.
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Page 55 Horticultural Varieties. Selections have been based mainly on the color of the root. In the Andes three main types are distinguished: blanca (white), amarilla (yellow) and morada (purple). Certain strains also differ in flavor, texture, and length of time to maturity. Types with golden roots and orange roots have been obtained by sexual propagation in Brazil. A type resistant to the bacterial disease Xanthomonas arracaceae is also being tested. 9 Andean germplasm collections are held in Merida, Venezuela, and Cajamarca, Peru. Environmental Requirements Daylength. It is believed that arracacha needs short days for good production of roots, but the range of variation among specimens is unknown. Rainfall. An even distribution of rainfall seems to be important; ideally, it should amount to 1,000 mm annually and never be less than 600 mm annually. Altitude. Arracacha is cultivated at elevations from 3,200 m down to 600 m, or perhaps lower. In Colombia, it is said to grow best at altitudes between 1,800 and 2,500 m; in southern Brazil, between 1,000 and 2,000 m. Low Temperature. A temperature range of 14–21°C appears to be required for best growth; lower temperatures delay maturity so much that the crop cannot be harvested before winter. As noted, the plant tolerates no frost. High Temperature. Arracacha seems unable to tolerate extended periods above 25°C. Soil Type. Sandy soils with pH of 5 or 6 are thought to be most suitable; these should be deep and well-drained. Yields are said to be enhanced by fertilizer high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen. 9 Information from V.W.D. Casali.
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