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|Arracacha root for sale in a market|
Arracacia xanthorrhiza is a root vegetable originally from the Andes, somewhat intermediate between the carrot and celery root. Its starchy taproot is a popular food item in South America where it is a major commercial crop.
The name arracacha (or racacha) was borrowed into Spanish from Quechua raqacha, and is used in the Andean region. The plant is also called apio or apio criollo ("Creole celery") in Venezuela, zanahoria blanca ("white carrot") in Ecuador, virraca in Peru, and mandioquinha ("little cassava"), batata-salsa (“parsley potato” (lit.)) or batata-baroa ("baronness potato") in Brazil. It is sometimes called white carrot in English, but that name properly belongs to white varieties of the common carrot.
The plant is native to the region west of the Andes and grows at altitudes varying from 200 to 3,600 meters with an optimal altitude of between 1,800 and 2,500 meters. It is frequently grown with other crops such as maize, beans, and coffee. The plant is very susceptible to viruses and is slow to mature (10–12 months) but requires much less fertilizer input than the potato. Its harvest season in the Southern Hemisphere spans from January to September. Arracacia's roots need to be picked promptly lest they become woody. They have a short shelf life and must reach consumers within a week of harvest. Fresh arracachas keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.
Arracacha cultivation can be very lucrative. It was imported into Brazil in the 19th century and has been grown commercially since the 1960s. Brazilian crop improvement programs have developed varieties that grow in seven months.
The most widely used part of arracacia is its starchy root. It cannot be eaten raw, but when cooked it develops a distinctive flavor and aroma that have been described as "a delicate blend of celery, cabbage and roast chestnuts."
The boiled root is used in similar ways as boiled potatoes, including being served as side dishes, mashed or whipped into purées, formed into dumplings and gnocchi, as an ingredient in pastries, or creamed into soups commonly garnished with chopped cilantro and croutons, though arracacia's flavor is stronger, and (depending on the variety) its color is more brilliant.
In the Andes region, arracacia is made into fried chips, biscuits, and ground into a coarse flour. The small size of arracacia starch grains make it highly digestible, and so purées and soups made from it are considered excellent as food for babies and young children.
The young stems can be eaten cooked or in salads, and the leaves can be fed to livestock.
100 grams of arracacha provide about 100 calories, 26g of which are dry matter, 23g being carbohydrate, and less than 1g of protein. The plant is rich in calcium, having four times as much as potatoes.
The yellow cultivar contains substantial amounts of carotenoid pigments, precursors to vitamin A, to the point that excessive consumption of arracachas may cause yellowing of the skin, a condition that is not considered to be harmful.