Ahipa (Pachyrhizus ahipa), commonly known as the Andean yam bean or the Andean bean is a perennial legume, that produces tuberous roots. It is found growing in the Andean region and hence the name. In the Andes, it is mostly cultivated for personal or local use. Although it is not very popular outside of the Andes, the British researchers introduced it to the West Indies in the 19th century, where it is also consumed by the local people. Ahipa is a highly nutritious legume root, which is eaten raw or added to salads because of its crunchy texture. It is normally eaten fresh like a fruit but some people prepared juice out of the tubers. The roots have a sweet taste and a crispy texture, almost like an apple and hence suitable for adding to salads. Ahipa can also be boiled and they retain their crunchy texture even after cooking.
Ahipa, ajipa, or Andean yam bean is similar to jicama and goitenyo in characteristics and uses. Unlike Jicama, roots are smaller and elongated.
Nutritional importance of Ahipa
Ahipa roots and flour can excellent options for gluten free starch. It contains ample amount of protein, fibre and minerals, such as potassium, calcium and iron. When compared to many other root crops, ahipa is higher in protein content. It is low in calories and sodium content. It also has high water content which makes its starch easily digestible. The roots are rich in carbohydrates and nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, and potassium. About 48 to 54% of the tuber is made up of starch that contains a soluble polysaccharide known as amylopectin. This tuber is found to be of great importance in the starch industry owing to its high content of amylopectin starch. It is high in water content and hence has a medium rating for energy and protein concentration. Tubers contain about 8-18% by weight of proteins, which is mainly water soluble.
The seeds of ahipa are also rich in protein. The oil extracted from the seeds contains high amounts of gamma tocopherol and palmitic acid, along with some amounts of linolenic acids. However despite their high protein and oil content, the seeds are not edible because of the presence of a toxic substance called rotenone, which is used as an insecticide and pesticide. This may probably be the reason why ahipa was never considered as a major food crop.
Benefits of Ahipa
As mentioned earlier, the tubers of ahipa are used as a vegetable. It is usually consumed raw like an apple or as juice or as an addition to various dishes. The white flesh of the tuber is refreshing and sweet and is very popular during the summer season. Ahipa root is often cut into thin strips and eaten raw in fruit salads and green salads. It can also be steamed or boiled. The vegetable retains its crunchy texture even after cooking. It can also be braised or used in stir-fries.
Ahipa tubers are considered to be beneficial for curing infections that affect the throat and the air passage. Eating this vegetable is thought to cleanse the body and get rid of unwanted and toxic substances. It is also found to be a good remedy for treating gout. Ahipa can be used for producing raw materials like sugar, starch, and protein needed for a sustainable agriculture system. It has been found that the tuberous roots of Ahipa can be processed into yam bean gari, which resembles cassava gari, a granular flour which is the current staple of West Africa.
Ahipa fixes nitrogen in the soil and so it can be grown without the use of nitrogen fertilizers. The root nodules contain rhizobia bacteria, which makes nitrogenous compounds that help to nourish the plant. This property not only supplements the soil in which it is planted but also helps the ahipa plant to grow robustly in impoverished soil. As such, it is extremely beneficial for small farmers who can use it as an integral element of a sustainable land use system. In addition to a high yield, ahipa also exhibits considerable resistance to diseases and pests.
Ahipa is one of the most interesting, but least popular edible roots available in the world. Just like its close relative, jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus), Ahipa is also becoming a much loved food of many parts of the world for its nutritional value and crunchy texture. Although this plant has not received much attention agronomically, it may have even more potential than its popular relative. Unlike Jicama, ahipa is a small and fast maturing plant that is not affected by day length, which makes it apt for large-scale commercial farming. Ahipa may therefore be considered as an important contributor to protein and food energy, even for temperate regions.Image Credits: Homestead and Gardens, Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development