1 great vege for gar­den & gut

It’s an ugly vege with a fruit flavour flavour and perfect for win­ter

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - WORDS KRISTINA JENSEN

It’s a crunchy, juicy,

wa­ter­mel­ony, cu­cum­bery vege you can har­vest in the depths of the New Zealand win­ter, and this great taste is the best rea­son to grow ya­cons ( Smal­lan­thus sonchi­folius).

These hum­ble tu­bers are one of my favourite veg­eta­bles. While they seem to be a bit of an ac­quired taste, I hear through the gar­den­ing grapevine that they are sprout­ing up all over New Zealand.

They are cer­tainly pop­u­lar in South Amer­ica where they have been grown for so long that the flow­ers pro­duce no fer­tile pollen and ya­cons can only be prop­a­gated by di­vid­ing the rhi­zome crown.

Ya­cons are re­lated to Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes, but they are slightly eas­ier to con­trol. It is true that they will grow from a very small rhi­zome like an ar­ti­choke but ya­cons don't spread as vig­or­ously be­cause of the in­fer­til­ity of their seeds.

My first ya­con clump came from a friend in North­land back in the mid-90s and I have been cart­ing off­spring from that orig­i­nal around ever since, plant­ing them here and there and ev­ery­where in the hope that they will 'catch on, ya­con'. One huge plus for me is that ya­cons don't tend to give me mas­sive gas at­tacks when I eat them. In con­trast, I call Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes 'farty chokes' just so you know what I mean!

Sci­en­tist and or­ganic gar­dener Alan Ka­puler has been study­ing ya­cons for more than 20 years. His work has shown ya­cons stim­u­late good bac­te­ria in the hu­man gut but also in the soil, so grow­ing ya­cons looks to be a good thing for guts and gar­dens.

The sweet flavour of a ya­con tu­ber is en­hanced by the first frosts and they are of­ten re­ferred to as 'the ap­ple of the earth'. Some peo­ple de­scribe the taste as a cross be­tween an ap­ple and a watermelon. Oth­ers feel i it is more like cu­cum­ber or e even cel­ery. I've also seen i it de­scribed as a 'fruitl like veg­etable' and as an ' 'un­der­ground pear'.

Ya­cons are high in fi­bre and have a su­per-low calo­rie con­tent, mak­ing them ideal as a quick snack. The tu­bers and the leaves con­tain high lev­els of in­ulin, a form of sugar hu­mans can­not eas­ily break down. This might seem to be a black mark against the poor ya­con, but on the up side, in­ulin aids di­ges­tion and pro­motes the growth of ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria in the in­tes­tine, while in­hibit­ing toxic bac­te­ria. Ben­e­fi­cial gut bac­te­ria is all the rage on the health scene and has led to ya­con syrup be­ing pro­moted as a su­per food.

I'd like to try it but at $30 for 300ml, it's just a bit be­yond my bud­get. I'll stick to eat­ing them raw and unadul­ter­ated thanks.

I have been cart­ing my ya­con around NZ for 20+ years

Fresh ya­con roots.

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