Achira and Arracacha

Lost Crops of the Incas

Achira/Queensland arrowroot/ Canna edulis

Another food plant from the Incas with archeological evidence of human use is from 3,500 years ago. Canna edulis is native to the Andean region in South America. The small towns of Palmira and Sahuayco, about two hours outside the city of Loja, are specialists in the cultivation and production of Achira. The plants are large tropical and subtropical perennial herbs with a rhizomatous rootstock. The broad, flat, alternate leaves, that are such a feature of this plant, grow out of a stem in a long narrow roll and then unfurl. The leaves are typically solid green but some cultivars have glucose, brownish, maroon, or even variegated leaves. The flowers are composed of three sepals and three petals thatare seldom noticed by people, they are small and hidden under extravagant stamens. What appear to be petals are the highly modified stamens or staminodes. The flowers are typically red, orange, or yellow or any combination of those colors, and are aggregated in inflorescences that are spikes or panicles.

Although all cannas are native to the New World, they have followed mankind’s journeys of discovery and some species are cultivated and naturalized in most tropical and sub-tropical regions. The first Cannas introduced to Europe were C. indica L., which was imported from the East Indies, though the species originated from the  Americas. Charles de I’Ecluse, who first described and sketched C. indica indicates this origin, and states that it was given the name of indica, not because the plant is from India, in Asia, but because this species was originally transported from America: “Quia ex America primum delata sit”; and at that time, one described the tropical areas of that part of the globe as the Western Indies. Without exception, all Canna species that have been introduced into Europe can be traced back to the Americas, and it can be asserted with confidence that Canna is solely an American genus. If Asia and Africa provided some of the early introductions, they were only varieties resulting from C. indica and C. glauca cultivars that have been grown for a long time in India and Africa, with both species imported from Central and South America.

In Peru the roots are baked for up to 12 hours by which time they become a white, translucent, fibrous and somewhat mucilaginous mass with a sweetish taste. The starch is in very large grains, about three times the size of potato starch grains, and can be seen with the naked eye. This starch is easily separated from the fibre of the root. The roots contain about 25% starch. It is high in potassium, low in calcium and phosphorus. Young shoots – cooked and eaten as a green vegetable. Quite nutritious, containing at least 10% protein. The immature seeds are cooked in fat tortillas.

Homemade Arrowroot Biscuits

2 cups wheat flour (self-raising)
1 cup icing sugar (or confectioners)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup condensed milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup arrowroot flour
1 egg

Mix all dry ingredients together well, then stir in condensed milk and oil into well in the centre of dry mix. Stir well and when bound together, knead until smooth. Roll out at about half a centimetre thick and cut with round cutter. Bake at 150° for about 15 mins or until pale golden.

Arracacha / White Carrot /Arracacia xanthorriza        

The arracacha, Arracacia xanthorriza is a garden root vegetable originally from the Andes, somewhat intermediate between the carrot and celery. Its starchy taproot is a popular food item in South America, especially in Brazil where it is a major commercial crop. The name Arracacha was borrowed into Spanish from Quechua, and is used in the Andean region. The plant is also called apio criollo in Venezuela, zanahoria blanca in Ecuador, virraca in Peru, and mandioquinha in Brazil. It is sometimes called white carrot in English, but that name properly belongs to white varieties of the common carrot. The leaves are similar to parsley, and vary from dark green to purple. The roots resemble fat short carrots, with lustrous off-white skin. The interior may be white, yellow, or purple. Fresh arracacha roots has 28 mg calcium (four times what the potato has) and 1.1% iron (double the percentage of the potato).

The yellow Arracacha contains sizable amounts of retinol (vitamin A). Arracacha’s starchy root flavors many dishes, from soups to desserts. In Brazil, it is being used as a thickener in instant soup and baby food formulas, which are marketed successfully by the private sector. Brazil has developed varieties that grow in seven months; this could benefit breeding for the high Andes”. The boiled root has about the same uses as boiled potatoes, including side dishes, purées, dumplings and gnocchi, pastries, etc., with the advantage of its flavor and (depending on the variety) its intense color. In the Andes region it is made into fried chips, biscuits, and coarse flour. Because it is highly digestible (due to the small size of its starch grains), purées and soups made from it are considered excellent for babies and children. 100 grams of arracacha provide about 100 calories.The plant is rich in calcium (four times as much as potatoes).

Cream of Arracacha

500 gr. Arracacha
3 ½ cups water
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp butter
1 cup roughly chopped old Dutch master or other hard cheese
½ cup milk cream
1 tsp nutmeg
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
4 or 5 sprigs of green onions
½ cup Paris mushrooms

Mince the garlic finely. In a deep pot, sauté the garlic till golden. Cut the Arracacha in small pieces. Add to pot, salt and cover with 2 cups of water. Let boil for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, sauté the mushrooms with 1 tbsp of butter. Thinly slice the green onions. Reserve. When the Arracacha is done, add the remaining butter, water, the nutmeg and milk cream. With an immersion blender or food processor, blend until the mixture has become a smooth cream. Add cheese and blend. Not incorporating the old master completely gives the cream an interesting texture. You could use grated cheese instead, and skip the blending. Taste and adjust spice. Serve and garnish with mushrooms, green onions and black pepper. Makes 4 servings.

About zoom50

“It’s amazing how people can get so excited about a rocket to the moon and not give a damn about smog, oil leaks, the devastation of the environment with pesticides, hunger, disease”
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3 Responses to Achira and Arracacha

  1. kimkiminy says:

    Very interesting! I always wonder who was the first person to dig this plant up and try eating it…

  2. zoom50 says:

    Possibly the same person who looked at a cow and said “I think I shall grab those dangling things and drink whatever comes out.”- Ha ha ha 🙂

  3. I’m reading a book called 14,000 years of Peruvian Nutricion. It says there is evidence that the achira plant was used by the Mochica and Chimu civilizations. These civilizations were active and reined Peru around 500 and 1,100-1,480 A.C. The achira plant was being consumed waaay before Incas were in power. Fascinating!!

    I didn’t know what the achira plant looked like and that how I ended up on your blog.

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