Peruvian gastronomy is experiencing one of its high points characterized by miscegenation and the influence of the cuisines of Africa, Spain, Italy or Japan. In addition, it has a great wealth of ingredients among which many types of tubers such as yacón, olluco, sweet potato or oca (New Zealand yam) stand out.
The latter is a plant that is grown in the highlands of the central and southern Andes at an altitude of about 3,000 meters. Its scientific name is Oxalis tuberosa, but apart from oca it is also known as “papa oca”, “ibia”, “lamaki”, “blond”, “red potato” or “New Zealand yam”.
It can be prepared in many ways, some of them following delicious traditional Peruvian recipes such as sancochado, ajiaco or ocas with chicken that we will teach you to cook later. If you are curious about new foods and their properties, we encourage you to continue reading the article.
Oca, an indigenous tuber of Peru
This vegetable is native to some Andean regions and one of the most widespread crops in the area. On many occasions, it even replaces the potato as its resistance to pests is much greater and ensures a more stable production.
The external appearance is similar to the potato, smaller and with an irregular shape. The varieties grown in the Andes have colors that range from white to bluish-black. On the other hand, in New Zealand there is another type introduced in 1860 that usually has a pink color.
Its flavor is intense with a touch between acid and sweet. Depending on the type of cooking, its texture may be more crunchy or floury. Although not as common, the leaves are also an edible part of the plant that can be added to salads.
The tubers keep well for several weeks in cool, ventilated places. It is also possible to put them through a dehydration and grinding process to obtain a type of starch known as khaya.
On a nutritional level, oca stands out for being an important source of carbohydrates and fiber. On the other hand, the presence of proteins and fats is low. Among the micronutrients it contains, the vitamins of group B, vitamin C, phosphorus and zinc are relevant.
Health Benefits of Oca (New Zealand Yam)
The consumption of oca and various tubers can be positive for health. Within a balanced diet and following healthy lifestyle habits, these are some of its advantages for the body.
1. Antioxidant activity
This is one of the properties that vitamin C gives it. Antioxidant compounds have the ability to counteract free radicals. The latter have been linked to possible cell damage and the appearance of some diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular problems or arthritis.
Also, do not forget that this vitamin is essential for normal tissue growth and repair. On the other hand, it is important to note that it must be ingested daily, since it cannot be stored.
2. Supports digestion and intestinal health
Dietary fiber is a food component resistant to digestive enzymes. However, some bacteria in the colon can digest or ferment it. Thanks to this today, positive effects of fiber can be documented in case of constipation, hemorrhoids, colon cancer or acid reflux.
3. Cardiovascular health
Fiber is a non-energy component of food, but instead it is a very important part of a healthy eating plan. This is recognized by experts who strongly recommend paying attention to your intake.
As explained by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics of the United States, it can collaborate in a wide variety of health conditions. The most important are the control of overweight, the management of blood glucose or the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
In the latter case, there are numerous epidemiological studies and some clinical trials that support its benefits. From them it can be concluded that the consumption of vegetables is inversely related to the risk of suffering from cardiovascular problems.
4. Oca is a healthy energy source
Complex carbohydrates are one of the best energy-supplying foods as they are digested slowly and do not cause blood glucose spikes. Whole grains, legumes or tubers are very good options to include in your day to day.
Thanks to its flavor, texture and digestibility, oca can be consumed by the entire population in general. But it is of special interest in children of growing age, adolescents, athletes or people with significant physical and intellectual activity.
Contraindications of consuming Oca (New Zealand Yam)
One of the components of oca is oxalic acid. This is also present in other green leafy vegetables, some seeds or cocoa. And under some conditions its consumption can lead to certain health problems.
Once ingested, oxalate can bind to other compounds such as calcium or iron in the colon, kidney, or other parts of the urinary tract. In most cases these are eliminated through feces or urine. But in some sensitive people they can end up forming kidney stones.
It is possible to decrease their content in oca when they are exposed to the sun for a week or when the tuber is peeled. However, it should be noted that for most people it does not represent a health problem and only those with kidney problems or ease of forming kidney stones should take precautions.
Baked Chicken Recipe with Oca
This is one of the many ways they can be cooked. Without a doubt a tasty recipe and very easy to prepare. To make 4 servings you need the following ingredients:
- 4 pieces of chicken without skin.
- Half a cup of lemon juice and a lemon cut into slices.
- 1 bunch of rosemary.
- Olive oil.
- Half a kilo of Oca.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Before you start, turn the oven to 200 degrees.
- Place a pot with water and a little salt on the fire.
- Wash the skin of the geese and blanch for 5 minutes in the boiling water.
- On the other hand, season and seal the chicken in a pan with olive oil over high heat.
- Then place on a refractory tray with the portions separated and mixed with the oca.
- Add the lemon juice and the slices, the rosemary and a little olive oil.
- Cook for 30 minutes and the dish is ready.
There are many ways to prepare oca if you want to introduce it into your diet
The possibilities offered by oca in the kitchen are as many and as varied as those of the potato, the yucca or the moniato. For this reason, it is possible to taste it in all kinds of meals, at any time of the day and throughout the year.
One of the first options is stews. These can be accompanied with other vegetables (onion, artichokes, peppers, carrots, peas, etc.) or add some type of meat or fish to obtain more complete dishes.
Once boiled, you can mash it with a fork and obtain an oca puree that is seasoned to taste and to which you can add a little crumbled fresh cheese. It also makes an excellent combination with crushed pumpkin in the form of a cream.
However, simplicity is not incompatible with good taste. Roasted oca seasoned with oil and salt is one of the best possible garnishes for any type of dish.
And if you are more sweet person, there is no problem because in Peru there are even desserts made with it. In addition, it is curious to know that in the Andes a kind of jam is also cooked with this ingredient and an alcoholic drink known as «chicha oca».
So, if you can take advantage of any of these ideas that we have offered, you have a good opportunity to add a healthy ingredient to your diet and increase its variety and range of flavors.