Yacon is an interesting plant native to Peru, which produces sweet tubers that slightly resemble yellow sweet potatoes. It is only recently that people outside of South America have become interested in yacon, and you can now find the tuber in some place in Europe and the US. Some time ago, Japan also began growing the tuber and it has become popular in dishes like tempura.
The tubers can be eaten in a variety of ways. They can be baked, boiled or steamed or eaten raw, and many people think of them as having a slight apple flavor. In addition to tasting good, they also have a unique element that makes them attractive as a food.
Yacon tubers are sweet and crunchy when raw but they contain a special sugar that humans don’t metabolize well. This sugar is called inulin or oligofructose. The special sugar of yacon can be used to sweeten products for people with diabetes, because it doesn’t increase blood sugar levels. In fact, you can now purchase yacon syrup in some health food stores and on the Internet.
Many people compare the syrup to molasses or honey, except that most consider it even sweeter. It does need to be substituted carefully in recipes and used sparingly, or foods made with it may taste overly sweet. Some people prefer this syrup as a sweetener to things like processed sugars. Vegans who avoid refined sugars and who don't eat honey because it is produced from bees may especially enjoy having this naturally produced sugar substitute.
You certainly don’t have to think of yacon as only used in syrup. Since growers have started producing this tuber outside of South America, chefs and amateur cooks have responded with numerous recipes for its use. Curries can be excellent with additions of chopped or grated yacon, and the tuber also lends itself well to use in salads. One recipe of interest is a Waldorf salad that combines carrots, walnuts, raisins, and grated slices of the tuber with a mayonnaise dressing.
There are also some nutritional benefits to eating yacon. It is considered a nutraceutical by some people because of its low sugar content, which may not only be a good sugar replacement for diabetics but might lower risk of diabetes. It may additionally promote good digestion. As a food, it’s eaten mostly for flavor. It doesn’t have a lot of calories but also isn’t a terrific source of protein, fiber or vitamins.