Arracacha is a South American root vegetable that resembles a stout parsnip with off-white skin. It hasn't yet made its fame outside South America, as potatoes and sweet potatoes have.
It's a member of the "umbellifer" family of plants that includes carrot, celeriac, parsnip, parsley, and even Queen Anne's Lace.
There are yellow, orange and white fleshed varieties available. About 70% of varieties have white flesh (varieties such as "Salamineña Blanca.") Yellow ones turn orangish after cooking.
Though technically Arracacha could be eaten raw, it isn't, because it's not very interesting raw. It is cooked up as a starchy vegetable, in soups, purées, and stews such as cocido, as well as in fritters, and in fillings for tortilla wraps. When cooked, it has a faint celery aroma.
Arracacha is farmed commercially in south-east Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and up into Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, and found regularly in supermarkets in most of those areas.
Yellow varieties are preferred in Columbia. White varieties of Arracacha are preferred in Ecuador, where it is called "zanahoria blanca" (white carrot.) A white cultivar has been grown since the 1940s in the central highlands of Costa Rica. There you can get it at markets already finely-chopped for you, used notably in making fillings for "picadillos."
Arracacha has been grown in Puerto Rico since at least 1903, where it is called "apio", owing to the similarity of its leaves with celery. It is also called "apio" in Venezuela, where it is very popular. It is called afió in Cuba, though it is still relatively unknown there.
In Peru and Bolivia, Arracacha is mostly just still grown in home vegetable gardens. In Peru particularly, it is still associated with poor rural people.
In Brazil, a yellow cultivar named "Amarela de Carandai" with a more pronounced flavour is grown; the domestic market there likes the colour and flavour of it. Arracacha was possibly introduced into Brazil in the late 1800s, early 1900s. There are many different names for it in Brazil, "mandioquinha-salsa" being the official one now there, meaning "cassava parsley", indicating the similarity of roots and leaves to those two other plants. Nestlé Brazil makes processed products based on Arracacha.
Arracacha can be expensive in markets and stores for a few reasons. The first is that Arracacha can crack when being harvested. The second is that it has a very short shelf life, and does not store well. A few days after harvest, the roots develop brown spots, then quickly deteriorate and dry out. The best way to extend their shelf life seems to be wrapping them in cling film in order to retain moisture, and then keeping them chilled between 3 and 12 C (37 F to 54 F.)
Arracacha is harvested from January through to September, 10 to 14 months after planting (in Brazil, cultivars that need only 7 months of growth have been developed.) Harvested tubers average 100 to 300g (3 to 9 oz) each, but if allowed to grow, can reach 1kg (2 1/4 pounds), though those may be woody and undesirable.
Arracacha is a perennial plant. Above ground, it grows tall green stalks, up to a metre or two (1 to 2 yards), with small leaves on them. The plant occasionally blossoms with whirls of tiny flowers that look somewhat like Queen Anne's lace flowers, for about 2 weeks, so that propagation can in theory be done via seed, but in farming, it is mostly done by hand, using cuttings. At the ground surface, the plant has what is called a "cormel" at the top of its root mass, from which the stem aboveground grows. You first break up the cormel mass; breaking it up results in better tuber production compared to using it whole, according to some researchers. Then you cut off the cormel, trim the aboveground leaves back to 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm), and then cut a cross into the bottom of the cut cormel. You let this sit a day or two to allow the cut surface to dry, then plant it. It takes at least 50 days for roots to start.
Because of this long starting time, traditional farmers will plant a field with both Arracacha and corn. The corn gets harvested at about the right time for the leaf structure of the Arracacha to really start taking off.
The roots of Arracacha really only bulk out after about 10 months of growth. Consequently, it is generally harvested about 12 months after planting, when the leaves start to turn yellow, but can be left in ground for later harvest up to 16 months. If left too long, though, the roots can turn woody. Each plant can produce 6 to 10 tubers.
When harvesting, the entire plant is pulled out, and the roots are broken off to be sold or used as the vegetable. The top is then divided into cormels for replanting as described above, and its leaves can be used for livestock feed.
Arracacha is popularly believed to be more digestible than other root veg starches, so it is often fed to infants and invalids.
15-28 mg mg
was noted in Columbia by a Spanish writer, Cieza de León, in 1545: "El señor o cacique de los Chibchas había mandado alzar el bastimento, de manera que tuvieron algunos hambre, por lo cual les fue forzado aprovecharse de lo que por naturaleza la tierra produce, y ansi debajo della sacaban unas raíces amargas, que yo creo tienen por nombre ‘arracachas’, porque si no me engaño no pocas dellas he comido; su sabor declina un poco a zanahorias; destas y de otras yerbas comían los que con Centeno andaban."
“The chief or cacique of the Chibchas had ordered a limit on provisions, so that some of the people were hungry, and they were forced to exploit what the land produces naturally. As a result, from under the ground they pulled out some bitter roots, which I believe are given the name ‘arracachas’, because, if I don’t deceive myself, I have eaten several of them: their taste slightly resembles that of carrots. Of these and other herbs the people who went around with Centeno were
from the Quechua word "racacha"
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-- Nicolas Chamfort (French writer. 1741 - 13 April 1794)