What is Maca Root?

We are just crazy about Maca! We can't get enough of this Peruvian superfood - known for its stamina, energy, and libido enhancing properties, maca is nature's energy food. If you have never tried maca, or want a refresher on maca's amazing benefits, then read on!

What is Maca Root?

High above sea level, in the peaks and pinnacles of the Peruvian Central Andes mountains, a hardy plant grows at an altitude of over 14,000 feet. This little plant, Lepidium meyenii, or maca, is a sturdy root vegetable long treasured by the residents of Peru for both its nutritional properties and medicinal value. 

The History of Maca

Maca was used by the Incans more than 2,000 years ago. The Incans found maca so potent as a source of energy and endurance that they restricted its use to the Royalty’s court. Conquering Spanish explorers brought the maca root back to Spain’s royalty for use as a fertility and energy enhancer as well. 

The Maca root was hidden away in the 1500s and sat on the brink of extinction until its potent properties were rediscovered in the 1980s. Today, maca’s cultivation is thriving, with more than 1,000 acres planted annually in the highlands of Peru. 

The Benefits of Maca

What the Incans, conquering Spaniards, and native Peruvians knew instinctively to be the benefits of maca, modern-day science is now validating. Maca’s reputation as an energizer, fertility booster, and libido enhancer. Studies are also being done on maca’s potential ability to support men's prostate health, support the brain, especially memory,  non-hormonal alternative for menopause, and as a fertility enhancer for both women and men. 

Maca root is highly nutritious and offers a variety of vitamins, minerals, and beneficial compounds. Maca root is a rich source of vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, iron, and copper (to name a few). Maca also contains 18 of the 20 essential amino acids needed to synthesize protein and cholesterol-controlling sterols. 

Peruvians enjoy maca daily, eating it specifically to promote energy levels, stamina, endurance, immunity, fertility, and libido.

Maca Varieties

Maca root is commonly found in three different varieties, named for the color of the actual root itself: yellow maca, red maca, and black maca. This distinction is only lent to the skin of the maca root. The maca bulb itself is mostly a creamy yellow color no matter what the skin variety is, and various maca powder varieties will all have the same yellowish, creamy beige appearance. 

The most commonly found maca powders are often the yellow maca, also known as cream-colored maca. Most often, this variety is not even labeled as yellow or cream, and instead is simply called "maca powder". Yellow maca is considered particularly helpful for both female and male fertility.

Black maca is labeled for the dark ink color of its skin, and this variety of maca is considered to be particularly helpful for increasing sperm count and sperm mobility in men, making it the maca of choice for male fertility. Black maca has also been shown to support brain health, especially when it comes to memory.

Red maca has reddish-purply skin, similar to a beet. Red maca has a unique benefit to the prostate gland that yellow and black maca do not provide (in research studies). While both the yellow and black varieties of maca showed to promote sperm supply, red maca did not. So red maca is considered particularly helpful for prostate health and prostate support without increasing sperm supply and affecting male fertility.

Maca root powder also comes in a gelatinized form. The process of “gelatinizing” the maca root powder removes the starches naturally found in the root vegetable. This process makes the maca powder more concentrated, easier to digest, and easier to mix into water or juices. Gelatinized maca root powder is great for those with sensitive stomachs, or for those looking for a more concentrated maca powder.

How is Maca Root Powder Made?

Maca used to be prepared cooked whole in pits, layered with coals of charred earth and roots. It was also boiled, mashed, and rolled into balls, and cooked in clay pots by Peruvian locals. For those of us that don’t reside on the Andes mountainside, the most common form of maca available is maca root powder. It's also available in capsules and tinctures.

What Does Maca Taste Like?

Maca is a root vegetable, like a radish, turnip, or potato. Its flavor can be quite earthy or malty, with a caramel or butterscotch undertone. Maca has a wonderfully warm, almost vanilla-like aroma. The flavor and smell of maca make it a great addition to smoothies, particularly when combined with a cacao powder or mesquite powder. 

How to Use Maca Powder?

Many people add maca root powder to your favorite energy drink, green juice recipe or smoothie, such as this creamy cacao maca smoothie. Maca’s earthy butterscotch flavor makes it a great addition to other foods too, such as homemade nutrition bars or this Maple-maca ice cream. The different varieties of maca (yellow, red, black, and gelatinized) can have some subtle flavor differences. 

Maple-Maca Ice Cream with Chocolate Chips

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 c raw cashews
  • 1 c water
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp maca powder
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate

DIRECTIONS

Blend all ingredients - except the dark chocolate - in a blender until completely smooth. (Try soaking the cashews in the water for 30 minutes prior to blending for smoother results.) Transfer to a bowl or container and freeze for 30 minutes. Mix in dark chocolate chunks into the cold ice cream, and continue freezing, covered, for 6-8 hours. Defrost for 5 minutes before serving.

recipe courtesy of mindbodygreen.com

 


Resources on Maca research:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15869705

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17683465

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21780878

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16796734

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15661081

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