What is Maca Root? Ancient Food Becomes Favorite Supplement
People often ask us about what is maca. So, we have started to collect here all that we have found and learned out about maca root as a plant and its usage and history.
Maca is a Peruvian root that is growing at high altitudes at Peruvian mountains. This tuber root is full of nutrients and potential compounds that can help you to boost your life.
In English, this root is known as maca root. Due to its energy boosting effect, it has a nickname ‘Peruvian ginseng’. Read more about maca roots benefits here.
In Spanish maca root is most commonly known as maca, maka, maca-maca, macamaca, maino, ayak chichira and ayak willku.
Is maca same as matcha?
No, maca is not matcha, even they sound very similar. Matcha is finely powdered green tea, and maca is a Peruvian root. The two do not have anything to do with each other.
How does maca root look like?
Here is a photo of maca.
Maca comes in different colors from yellow, to red, purple to dark gray. Interestingly all color grow in the same field and it is surprising what color of maca you will get from the field sprinkled with maca seeds.
Different colors of maca roots have slightly different proportions of components; even they are the same plant.
What parts of the maca are used?
The root part of the maca is the most coveted part of the maca plant. Dried root powder is what is most commonly used as raw material for maca industry producing different maca products. The maca root powder is most common form how maca is exported.
Small leaves of maca have some usage too. Where maca is grown, maca leaves are used as salad or feed animals. Maca leaves possibly contain antioxidants and can also be used to make maca leaf tea.
Maca Root History
For hundreds of years, maca root reputation for enhancing strength, fertility, and sexual desire has been well known to people from Peru.
It is believed that this root began to be domesticated as early as 1600 BC by Andean people. When taking herds higher at altitudes where maca grew wild, native Andean people noticed their herds became stronger and more fertile. When these people started to use maca themselves, they soon became aware of a significant increase in their energy and stamina.
During Inca time, legend has it that maca was given to warriors before the battle for better strength and enhanced energy. However, the legend also has it that after a victory, soldiers were not allowed to consume maca due to its special healing powers and desire for women. Meaning, maca was not given to warriors to protect women from soldier’s powerful sexual impulses.
There are also claims that Spaniards used maca for enhancing physical energy and fertility. And some facts indicate that Peruvian people used maca not only as food but simply as a tax payment method to Spain.
Maca has been a long time used by Peruvians as food, for its medicinal benefits to this day. It is an important source of nutrition for people living at high altitudes. Maca is one of the highest nutritional value foods grown at high altitudes.
Maca has a great taste is has been used for culinary purposes. Maca root has been used to prepare porridge, pudding, jam or used as baked or roasted. As traditional medicine maca is consumed to treat PMS, menopause, increase energy, to enhance memory and as stamina builder.
How did maca root become popular?
Due to the very high nutritional value of dried maca and its health benefits, this once nearly forgotten food become a very popular plant not only in Peru but also worldwide.
During the history, maca usage decreased in time to point, where only local Peruvians continued to consume this root until there were some researchers that started to look more carefully into maca root and analyze its nutritional value.
National Research Council did botanical research and published 1989 a publication of “Lost Crops of the Incas”, where one of the studied plants was maca root. The publication states maca being rich essential amino acids, containing a good amount of protein and containing a high amount of iron and iodine – compounds quite suitable for high altitude diet.
Same time the publication states that domesticated maca was in danger of extinction and more research was needed on this plant. The book also has a mention that there started to be initial interest towards reputed human fertility of maca root.
In the following years, the popularity of maca started to grow same time when the research was done on maca, and it proved the great nutritional value of maca and that maca powder was a perfect way to store and export maca without losing its nutritional value. Processed maca powder is the form that is most commonly used for bulk export.
Discovery of macamides and macaenes, alkamides unique to maca, lead the maca to world fame, and the research on these bioactive compounds and their possible usage is still going on. Maca has attracted doctors and researchers around the world, becoming one of the most popular nutritionally rich natural roots.
How is maca originally used in Peru?
This food growing in high altitudes in rough living conditions is a highly valued source of nutrients. All parts of the maca root are traditionally used. Root is used in various ways and leaves can be cooked or put in a salad.
This plant has been used as food, in cooking, and as a traditional medicine since Inca time by both men and women.
Fresh roots are considered as a treat due to their strong but fresh butterscotch-like flavor. The fresh roots are cooked, baked or roasted. Smashed fresh maca is used to create porridge-like food.
Drying maca roots in the sun is a very traditional way to prepare maca for storage and also for selling it at local markets. Dried roots are boiled in milk or water to create a porridge.
Sun-dried maca roots are also ground to maca powder, and the powder is used as flour for baking purposes and to mix with grains.
Maca chicha is a sweet fermented drink made from maca. This fermented drink is enjoyed as it is and also sometimes mixed with hard liquor to make an enjoyable mix, ‘coctel de maca’. Maca can also be used to brew beer.
There are even maca candies that can occasionally be found in local Peruvian marketplaces.
What does maca root’s Latin name Lepidium meyenii or Lepidium peruvianum mean?
Lepidium is a pepperweed plant, belonging to Mustard family (Brassicaceae ⁄ Cruciferae).
Everyone seems to be agreeing on Lepidium part, but there seems to be mixed use of Lepidium meyenii and Lepidium peruvianum. Usually used English common name for both these Latin names is simply ‘maca root’. However, they Lepidium meyenii and Lepidium peruvianum might not exactly mean the same.
Lepidium meyenii Waplers
German botanist Gerhard Walpers 1843 collected an example of a plant in Pisacoma that local natives called as “maca”. This example was deposited as a specimen with name Lepidium meyenii Walpers.
Lepidium peruvianum Chacón
In 1961, Peruvian botanist Dr Gloria Chacón Roldán described maca under a different name ‘Lepidium peruvianum’ and later 1990 deposited an example of maca root with a new scientifc name ‘Lepidium peruvianum Chacón’.
So, is it Lepidum meynii or Lepidium peruvianum?
These two different scientific names are usually used for all maca, but deeper DNA and chemical studies have shown some differences between these two classifications. They seem to be two slightly different specimens!
Studies on these two maca archetypes support an opinion that Lepidium meyenii Walp is the wild growing form of maca and the Lepidium peruvianum Chacón is the harvested from of maca that has cultivated into its slightly own category over the years since its Inka origin.
Does the Latin name of maca matter?
The maca that we can buy from shops falls into both these fine categories, and these names are very commonly mixed into one word ‘maca’ labeling quite often both Lepidium meyenii and Lepidium peruvianum.
Even these two forms of maca do seem to vary slightly on their compounds, they both have quite similar effects. So, from that perspective, the naming confusion does not make a huge difference.
Food regulation perspective to the situation is interesting. For example, Chinese maca is labeled under Chinese classification under name Lepidium meyenii, and it has been grown in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Yunnan, most likely since 2003. Since the Chinese officials call their maca as Lepidium meyenii, it is also sold to global markets under that name, to countries that accept the name without reference to the actual origin of the product.
It is consumers right to know from where the product comes from, how it is grown and if it is the naturally growing wild form of maca or harvested form of maca or even some new form maca due to recent cultivation.
It can be suggested that Lepidium peruvianum could be the best name for Peruvian grown maca, with the addition to the origin of the product.
In what kind of products maca is used and could be useful?
Maca root has very interesting compounds, and research is finding all the time new possible ways to use maca. It has made its way now to supplement industry, where maca is used in cosmetics. People also have started to get used to maca’s peculiar nutty flavor and started to enjoy it even more for culinary purposes. There may be medical uses coming for maca extracts and maca
What makes maca a superfood?
Maca root has a high level of nutrients that come very handy in maintaining and improving health and overall being. Based on its historical facts and essential nutrient value, maca became a well known super healthy food during the past twenty years, around the world.
The Macmillan Dictionary defines “superfood” as food that is considered to be very good for your health, and that may even help some medical conditions. The Oxford Dictionary definition states a superfood is “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”.
Maca fits well with both these dictionary definitions. Maca is reported to have an energizing effect, fertility enhancing effect, anti-inflammatory, and so on…
In clinical trials it was also shown that maca has positive effects on your mood, it can decrease anxiety, improve sperm production.
It is scientifically studied that due to its extremely rich nutritional value, and its special abilities, this root not only recovers the body but also promotes rapid healing and helps with different stress-related problems.
Maca root is believed to be a unique nutritional stock of vitamins and minerals, which will help nourish your body, stabilize your hormone irregularities, improve your mental abilities and boost your sexual performance.
As far as athletes, they find this root safe, beneficial and effective to use especially as an alternative to anabolic steroids.
Maca is all-natural nutrient-rich food, and it has so many healthy properties. Maca benefits can help people feel and look better.
There is something in maca’s growth on high altitude that makes it suck nutrients from the soil it is growing. No wonder that once maca field is harvested, they usually let the field stand for 2-3 years before planting the same field again with maca.
Read more about maca root benefits here.
What does maca smell and taste like?
Maca root smell is nice, nutty and slightly sweet.
The maca taste is a bit strong, especially if you are not used to it, and rich in flavor. One could describe maca’s taste as malty, nutty and you might feel the taste of something that could be described as soily.
Read more about maca taste here – especially if you are not the big fan of the taste.
Good fresh maca and quality maca products have both a pleasant sweet smell and strong flavor. When you purchase maca in powder form, smelling and tasting it is a good way to test if you have a high-quality product or not. With little practice, you learn to recognize the maca taste and smell.
Where does the Peruvian maca grow?
Peruvian maca grows in one of the harshest places to grow things, with freezing temperatures during the growth period and during summer also intense sunlight with high UV radiation. Maca is one of the rare plants that can cope and be grown in these conditions.
The most famous maca fields are in Peru, where maca root is grown especially in Junin area, where there is not waste, polluted water and no chemicals used for producing or processing maca root at high altitude.
Usually, the maca is grown by local Peruvian farmers, and it is certified organic.
Peruvian maca root is a rare plant that can survive in very cold weather, intense sun and poor soil.
Where other places does maca grow?
Maca is mainly growing naturally in Peru and Bolivia.
Maca is organically cultivated in the Andes Mountains in Peru, at altitudes of approximately 3500 – 4500 m (11,500 – 15,000 ft) above sea level. The main growing region for this root is limited, and it is in the Junin and Cerro de Pasco district of Peru. The largest cultivated area is found around Lake Junín at Huayre, Carhuamayo, Uco, Ondores, Junín, Ninacana and Vicco.
Because of a very specific and harsh climate in Peru, only a few crops can be cultivated. Cultivated in the harshest of environments, maca served people in Peru as a main source of nutrition.
What should I know about maca from different origins?
China is producing a lot of maca, but it is grown in slightly different conditions and soil than Peruvian maca. The Chinese maca root is the same original plant origin, but because of the difference of growth environment, the root looks bigger and often is a slightly different shape.
Other countries are also looking currently into maca farming, but at the moment most maca available on markets is either Peruvian or Chinese origins.
Where does my maca root come from?
When buying maca products be sure to find out the origin of the product. You as a conscious consumer can choose what maca growing place, country and what kind of growing methods you wish to support.
If the packaging or the maca product brand does not clearly state where their maca root raw material comes from, and how it is grown, then you will most likely have maca that is coming from all over the world from any possible source where it is sold with the lowest bulk price.
How is maca changing people’s lives in Peru?
Maca growing communities meal life to people in Peru and many people have a possibility to return to vast highlands to Peru where their roots and heritage is.
Maca farming is livelihood in traditional living areas, giving education, jobs, and possibility to make a living in highland farming communities.
Why are we interested in maca? Why whole site about maca root?
We have personally experienced help from maca to our energy levels, and we simply want to promote maca root knowledge and information around the world. On this site, we are sharing information in as helpful form as we can and recommend products that we are finding ourselves useful and practical.