Report Synopsis

The potential of growing Yacon and other Lost Crops of the Incas and Jerusalem Artichoke as crops and functional foods in Ireland

Klaus Laitenberger

For many years I have been growing a number of crops from the highlands of South America here in Ireland. We all know that the potato originates from Peru/Bolivia but for some bizarre reason all the other amazing “Inca Crops” were never taken by the Spanish invaders for worldwide cultivation. Only the potato, sweet potato and maize have spread throughout the world. In recent years, other crops from the Incas – quinoa and amaranth – are quickly gaining popularity. Most other crops have drifted into obscurity. Only in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia do these amazing crops still exist.

There is renewed interest in these crops throughout the world. Many of these Inca crops are grown in New Zealand, UK, Czech Republic, Japan, China, and the Netherlands and are trialled in many countries throughout the world.

There is a large increase in health conscious consumers as can be seen in the number of health powders and products for sale in every shop. These health conscious consumers are rapidly changing their diet and creating a demand for new products and yet agriculture in Ireland is slow to react to these changes. All of these products are imported even if many of them could be produced in Ireland. Farm diversification could provide an additional income stream and thus more resilience in a volatile market.

While I studied many Inca crops on my travels and have grown many of them here in Ireland, in this report I focussed on the two crops which have the best commercial potential for production and the most promising health properties – namely Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) and Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus). Yacon is from South America and Jerusalem artichoke originates from North America. Both crops are extremely high yielding and with known health benefits. A brief description is given for a number of other interesting Inca crops which are suitable for the Irish climate.

My findings are:

  1. There is a massive potential for the production of yacon and Jerusalem artichoke in terms of yield potential and profitability.
  2. A number of bioproducts can be derived from Jerusalem artichoke and yacon – inulin, fructooligosaccharides, fructose, natural fungicides, antioxidants and bioethanol.
  3. Both yacon and Jerusalem artichoke have shown potential health benefits for people suffering from diabetes.
  4. Oca, mashua and other Inca crops could find a place as a niche or specialist crop in an ever more diversified diet often promoted by TV chefs.
  5. There is no expectation that these crops will replace our staple crops but that they can play an important part in a more diverse future food system.

This report has been developed as a result of visits, interviews, horticultural crop trials research organisations, plant breeders, growers, agronomists and manufacturers.

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