JUNE 12, 2007
 (STAR) By Rudy A. Fernandez - Forget marijuana. Plant yacon.

This is the thrust now being pursued by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the Cordillera as it hopes to completely eradicate the planting of the prohibited marijuana and instead grow the high-yielding root crop yacon introduced in the Philippines just more than a decade ago.

The PNP recently requested the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Industry and Energy Research and Development (DOST-PCIERD) to study yacon’s properties primarily to develop value-added products such as tea, juice drinks, and noodles.

As planned, the DOST Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) will develop the products, standardize the formulation and production process, and evaluate the chemical, physicochemical, microbiological and sensory properties of any resulting product.

“Functionality of the products will be established in supplementary studies as part of the project,” said PCIERD through Ma. Elena T. Tabangcura.

The project aims to produce functional foods or “nutraceuticals” out of yacon, which continues to grow in popularity because of the consumers’ rising awareness on diet and disease links, aging population, skyrocketing health care costs, and advances in food technology and nutrition.

Yacon (scientific name: Smallanthus sonchifolius), is a member of the sunflower family that originated in the Andean mountains in South America, particularly in Peru and Bolivia.

It was initially grown exclusively in northern Mindanao in the early 1990s by the Doalnars Multipurpose Cooperative in Claveria, Misamis Oriental.

Yacon, which looks like sweet potato (camote), was subsequently introduced in Baguio City and Nueva Vizcaya in early 2000 by a Japanese businessman. This started the spread of yacon production in the Cordilleras.

Now fondly called “apple of the earth,” yacon has edible tubers (roots) that are sweet, low in calorie, and can be eaten raw, boiled, or sautéed in oil. Its flesh is crunchy just like that of singkamas.

Last year, yacon was among the “mature technologies” exhibited at a technology forum organized by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) at its office building in Diliman, Quezon City.

Since yacon was introduced in the country, several researches, among them supported by the DA-BAR headed by Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar, have been conducted to further unravel its potential.

Initial studies were done by the DOST-National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) and Benguet State University (BSU), the multi-campus regional university in the Cordillera whose seat of administration is the main campus in the capital town of La Trinidad.

Yacon is typically cultivated at an altitude of 1,500 to 2,000 meters above sea level, noted BSU, currently headed by Dr. Roger Colting, who has just been reappointed for another term as president.

“This means that this crop can best be grown in Benguet and Mountain Province and other areas with similar climatic condition,” added BSU, which is conducting a project titled “Research and Development of Yacon.”

Initial results indicate that the root crop is good for making wine, vinegar, and pickles.

Other studies have found that from roots to tips, yacon is edible and every part of the plant is nutritious.

“These nutritional elements,” said DOST-PCIERD, “have medicinal benefits to those who suffer from obesity, constipation, insomnia, arthritis, hypertension, and kidney diseases, among other ailments. Yacon has the lowest calorie content (54 calories) compared to local rootcrops such as sweet potato (123), potato (77), and taro (gabi) (60).”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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