While 2013 was declared the “International Year of Quinoa” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, many of the world’s top dieticians are looking to make another ancient Andean crop, maca (aka Peruvian ginseng) seems destined to become one of biggest healthy food trends for 2017. In the meantime, powdered maca has been gaining ground in stores across the US as a dietary supplement to increase energy as well as sexual performance in older men suffering from erectile dysfunction. Studies have shown that black maca (as opposed to yellow and red varieties) has a higher effect on sperm count.
Additional benefits attributed to the root vegetable contend it can ease hot flashes caused by menopause, and help in treating polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid conditions, depression, and even hair loss. Meanwhile, claims that maca is effective in treating or preventing cancer have yet to be proven scientifically. Still, Cynthia Sass, RD, author of “Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Pulses”(the edible seeds from legume plants) recommends that people use it sparingly when adding it to other foods.
Although quinoa is a grain, maca is a root vegetable, with many of the same nutritional values as some cereals such as 60-75% carbohydrates, 10-14% protein, 8.5% dietary fiber, and 2.2% fatty acids including linolenic acid, palmitic acid, oleic acids, and 19 amino acids. It is also rich in dietary minerals calcium and potassium (with low sodium), as well as essential trace elements iron, iodine, copper, manganese, magnesium and selenium, and zinc, not to mention sugars and proteins, uridine, malic acid, and its benzoyl derivative, and the glucosinolates, gluck tropaeolin and m-methoxyglucotropaeolin.
According to tradition, fresh roots (available only in their native mountains) are often roasted in pits, as well as mashed and boiled to produce a sweet, thick liquid (said to be “nutty with a hint of butterscotch”). This is then dried and mixed with milk to create a type of porridge. Cooked maca roots are also combined with other vegetables in empanadas, jams, or soups, while flour made from them is used to made bread, cakes, and even pancakes. The leaves, which can be eaten both raw in salads and cooked, are also used to feed animals. Meanwhile, a brewery based in the United States began capitalizing on ancient Peruvian recipes for a weak beer known as chicha de maca to turn fermented maca into a commercial beverage under the brand name KUKA Beer back in 2010.