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What Is Arracacha?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated May 16, 2024
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Arracacha, or zanahoria blanca, is a root vegetable native to the Andean region of South America that is botanically related to celery and carrots. The root has white, smooth skin and resembles a large white carrot or a parsnip. Its mild flavor is reminiscent of celery, cabbage, or chestnut. The tall stems are green with occasional purple streaks and can be boiled or eaten raw like celery. Arracacha is cultivated and consumed primarily in South America and some Caribbean and Central American regions.

This plant has likely been cultivated in South America as long as any other. Often grown instead of potatoes because it is cheaper to produce and requires less fertilizer, the plant is native to the Andean region between Bolivia and Venezuela. The Spanish conquistadors overlooked the plant, and it was not given a scientific name until the late 1700s. The word arracacha is Quechua and was imported into Spanish.

This is one of the largest cultivated umbellifers. The central root will typically bear several lateral roots between approximately 2 and 10 inches (5 to 25 cm) long and 1 to 2 inches (2 to 6 cm) in diameter. The flesh can be white, yellow, or purple depending on the variety. The stems and leaves usually grow to around 3.2 feet (1 m) tall and can produce small yellow or purple flowers if left to seed.

The roots are starchy but easily digestible and a rich source of vitamin A. Infants and the elderly can safely eat arracacha root. All parts are high in calcium. The plant keeps in the refrigerator for two to three weeks.

A versatile tuber, tender arracacha roots are typically boiled, baked, or fried. They are also commonly added to stews like sancocho that are popular in Peru and Colombia. It is not uncommon to find this plant in Ecuadorean or Venezuelan cuisine, where it is known as apio.

In Brazil, arracacha is dried into chips that are then added as flavoring to dehydrated soups. Boiled, the root is often served with a sauce like salsa de queso, or cheese sauce, or salsa de pepas de zambo, or pumpkin seed sauce. Stems can be blanched or added to salads. The foliage and central root are generally given to livestock.

As a crop, arracacha has several limitations that help explain why it is not grown more widely. The roots take longer to grow than a potato and are typically harvested 300 to 400 days after planting. It is not frost tolerant, and if left in the ground too long, the roots become tough, fibrous, and unpleasantly flavored. Additionally, arracacha is vulnerable to spider mites and some viruses and has a short shelf life.

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