Arracacha – What Is This Sweet Tasting Potato Substitute?

Arracacha belongs to the umbellifer family and is a root vegetable popular in South America. It’s an important cash crop, bringing high returns on investment in many regions, including Andes and Brazil.

Interestingly, the plant likes to grow on higher altitudes, optimally between 1800 to 3500 meters in the tropics, though it will also grow at altitudes higher than 600m.

But what the arracacha plant is? Where does it like to grow, and how is it used? Keep reading, and you’ll find everything there is to know about the arracacha plant, and you might even decide to add it to your vegetable garden!

Native to the Andes, arracacha is somewhat like carrots and celery. As for the taste, you’ll find the flesh richer in flavor and texture than potato. Available from fall through winter, they’re soft, aromatic, and used in various ways. Bake, boil or fry them, or add them to soups and stews. In the Andes, arracacha root is popular as fried chips, biscuits, and even flour!

Common NameArracacha
Botanical NameArracacia Xanthorrhiza
Plant TypeBiennial Or Perennial
Size (Fully Grown)Can Grow As High As 3 Feet (About 91 cm)
Sun ExposurePreferably Full Sun But The Plant Can Tolerate Light Shade
Soil TypeWell-draining Sandy Loam
Soil pHFrom 5.0 To 6.0
Flower ColorPurple, Maroon
U.S. Hardiness Zones8, 9, 10, And 11
Native AreaAndes

Different Arracacha Types

Different arracacha varieties are available, with differences in their texture, size, and flesh color, ranging from yellow, orange, purple to white. Since the heirloom varieties take about 13 months to mature, Brazilian crop improvement programs have also bred cultivars ready for harvest in about seven months. The three main cultivars include:

  1. Blanco (white)
  2. Morado (purple)
  3. Amarillo (yellow)

The History Of This Ancient Root

The arracacha plant is native to the Andes mountains. It has been growing wild in the region since ancient times. Historians believe that it was first domesticated in Ecuador, from where it quickly spread to the rest of South America. The name arracacha (or racacha) is derived from “raqacha” of a native South American language, Quechua, spoken in the Andean region.

It has been cultivated in Brazil for over a hundred years now, proving to be a vital cash crop and contributing to many impoverished farmers’ livelihood. Different varieties were soon introduced in Brazil, with smaller growing seasons, so that the farmers could grow more crops and plant them as companions with maize, beans, and coffee.

The root is popular in traditional South American cuisine, particularly in preparing torrejas (fried dough made with arracacha, garlic, flour, and eggs. In Brazil, mashed arracacha, along with egg and butter, is used to create a dish called Souffl é de.

The crop was introduced in Puerto Rico in 1910, where it’s grown at higher altitudes. It’s also cultivated in Europe, North America, and Australia, but on a smaller scale since the climate isn’t as suitable for growing it in those regions.

How To Recognize Arracacha?

Arracacha is a biennial or perennial herb that grows stout green stalks above the ground and fleshy taproots below the surface. It’s a slow-growing plant that takes several months to harvest.

Though they can grow as tall as 3,3 feet (about 1 meter) if you allow it to continue, they’re usually harvested after the first year while they’re still 1,6 to 3 feet (50 to 91 cm) tall.

The above-ground part of the plant looks much like parsley and celery, while the roots resemble carrots. Though all the plant parts are edible, it’s usually the roots below the ground that we harvest. And the taste of those roots is somewhat a combination of potato, celery, and carrot. It sounds weird, but that’s what it is.

The Root

That starchy taproot is the main reason why people grow arracacha. The tuberous roots typically take about 10 to 14 months to fully mature and typically weigh around 3,5 to 10,6 ounces (about 0,1 to 0,3 kg) at the time of harvest.

If you leave them to the ground and let them grow even further, they can reach a size of up to 35,3 ounces (about 1 kg). But I don’t recommend you to do this since they’ll be woody and less flavorful, which means they are usually unsuitable for consumption.

Each root can be between 2 to 10 inches long (about 5 to 25 cm) and 1 to 2 inches (about 2,5 to 5 cm) wide. They're like fat, stout carrots, with an off-white skin. The flesh color ranges from purple, white, orange to yellow, depending on the cultivar.
© Luis Echeverri Urrea – stock.adobe.com

Foliage

As we discussed, the above-ground part of the arracacha can reach a height of up to 1,6 – 3,3 feet (about 0.5 – 1 meters) during the growing season. It bears short dark green to purple ovate leaves that look like celery and parsley. But, the stems of it are much thinner than that of celery. Though the foliage dies back in winters, it will return after the ground warms up, as long as the soil doesn’t freeze over.

The leaves and stems are edible and can be consumed just like celery. You can either cook them or add them raw to your fresh salads.

Flowers

Arracacha rarely flowers during the growing season. This is because the roots are harvested before the plant gets a chance to blossom. But, if you allow it to bloom, the plant’s flowering period lasts for 1 to 2 months, producing tiny, oval purple to maroon flowers.

The flowers bear small one-seeded fruits that can be used for propagation. But, most growers still prefer to propagate it through cuttings.

In What Conditions Does Arracacha Grow Best In?

Arracacha is quite a challenging vegetable to grow in most places, mainly since it requires a long growing season and is very picky about the climate. It won’t grow well in North America, where there’s frost.

Also, regions that get too hot in summers aren’t suitable for arracacha cultivation either. The best bet is the temperate regions on higher elevations, like the Andes, where summers aren’t too hot, and winters aren’t too cold.

In What Temperature Does Arracacha Grow Best In?

Cool, frost-free temperatures throughout the year-long growing season are best for arracacha. It’s sensitive to both too hot and cold temperatures. So, that’s why the best growing temperatures lie at 65 to 75°F (about 18 to 24°C).

If the plants get too much exposure to temperatures higher than 90°F (about 32°C), the roots are prone to bacterial damage. Below 50°F (about 10°C), growth slows down considerably, and it might even take two growing seasons to achieve the adequate size of tubers.

Soil And Sun

Aracacha will grow best in a well-draining, sandy loam, with a pH between 5 and 6. Though it’s shade tolerant to some extent, planting it in full sun will produce the best roots. It doesn’t need a lot of nutrients to thrive and is often planted in the same location after potatoes without even the need to replenish the soil’s nutrients.

Water And Fertilizing

The plant prefers to grow in moist soil, but avoid overwatering it. Though it’s a drought-tolerant plant, lack of water can force it to flower and fruit, reducing the quality and yield.

Most growers rarely fertilized it since it’s not very demanding when it comes to nutrients. This is probably the reason why it’s preferred over potatoes in regions where it grows well.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Arracachas?

Aracachas are a plant that is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, making them a healthy root vegetable. Since it’s low on calories and high in dietary fibers, it makes an excellent meal for people trying to lose weight. The root is also found to reduce the risks of cancers, including breast cancer and lung cancer.

But, is there anything you need to know before consuming these delicious, nutty vegetables? Is it safe to eat arracachas during pregnancy or if you’re suffering from a medical condition? Let’s find out!

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

This vegetable is safe for consumption if you are pregnant or still breastfeeding. Overconsumption isn’t advisable since it may cause a yellow hue on the baby’s skin, even though the condition itself isn’t harmful to the baby’s health.

Children

Aracacha soups and purees are healthy for babies and children. But, only offer them in moderate amounts.

People With Allergies

Allergies from arracacha are not very common. But, if you’re sensitive to root vegetables, especially carrots, parsnips, and celery, you may want to avoid consuming arracachas. So, consult a doctor before eating arracachas.

As a side note, the yellow varieties have excessive quantities of carotenoid pigments. These cultivars’ excessive consumption can cause a yellow hue on the skin, though as we mentioned, the condition isn’t harmful.

People With Diabetes

Arracachas are rich in dietary fibers, making them an excellent addition to a diabetic patient’s plate. It also reduces the risk of diabetes in healthy individuals.

Pets

In short, the plant isn’t toxic to your household pets, and some farmers even feed it to their livestock. Even though the plant isn’t harmful to your pets, don’t provide it to them regularly or, in the best-case scenario, at all.

Featured image credit – © Luis Echeverri Urrea – stock.adobe.com

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