SUPERFOOD SPOTLIGHT: Maca Root
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Maca is an herbaceous plant native to Bolivia and Peru, grown high in the Andes Mountains. It is mainly grown for the health benefits of its root, which has been used as far back as 1600 B.C. to balance the body’s endocrine system, alleviate stress and provide an all-natural energy boost. Maca is loaded with amino acids, vitamins B, B1, B2, C, D and E, as well as fiber and essential fatty acids. Maca is also an adaptogen, meaning it helps to bring balance to the body in whatever way the body needs it.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRY IT: Feeling sluggish but want to avoid that cup of coffee? Add some maca powder to your smoothie instead. Maca provides an instant stamina boost, perfect for everything from that early morning gym trip to fighting chronic fatigue. In addition, maca can help balance stress within the body, aid in reproductive function (it can have a sex-drive boosting effect, watch out!) and increase fertility.
LET’S GET TOGETHER: Maca is popping up everywhere from your local grocery store’s all-natural aisle to your favorite smoothie bar’s add-ons menu. We like to add delicious-tasting Navitas Naturals Maca Powder to our morning green drink for an extra energy jolt. With its butterscotch-esque taste, it is the perfect addition to homemade “milkshakes” or desserts. Maca ice cream, anyone?
Sipping on a mint maca cocoa smoothie as I read this. Love the stuff!
Yum! Sounds amazing!
Maca powder = maca flour. I have cooked with maca flour ten years, as a baking and cooking ingredient/flavoring. In Peru, maca flour, or “harina de maca” is a relatively cheap regional culinary flour. Raw Reform is a great specimen of this culinary flour; ideal for cooking, an excellent nutty flavor, it’s bitterness subsiding with heat. A decade ago I could buy ‘harina de maca’ for $8/kg (and in Peru, it’s a mere $2-4/kg) – now I see this same inexpensive Peruvian cooking flour sold as a “raw superfood” at an inflated price. It’s very odd to have witnessed this metamorphosis.
This article suggests that you to eat this flour raw. Like other cruciferous roots, maca can be particularly difficult to digest when raw. Not only is it fiber-dense, it contains lots of goitrogenic compounds (a term which means ‘thyroid-interfering,’ not “goiter causing”) – that’s why the raw root and it’s flour is so bitter – it’s no wonder people have digestive issues and occasional hormonal (thyroid) complaints with raw maca. The one time I ate it raw, I experienced the stomachache, too! Maca is dense in fiber and thyroid inhibiting/goitrogenic compounds (glucosinolates and isothyocyanates), both of which are lessened greatly or deactivated by heat. Among the people who grow it, maca is not considered healthy unless cooked. It is therefore a great paradox that the “raw food” crowd has gotten hold of this vegetable that has always been, and by all accounts always should be cooked. This supplement is being backed by people whose basic food philosophy avoids the plant’s very identity in human use. It would be like eating turnip flour, raw (except maca can even more bitter than this, in fact most of the lepidiums are). Back into antiquity, maca has had to be cooked in order to be gentle on digestion, on metabolism, and it has been cooked traditionally for this purpose.
I have used the raw maca flour in cooking since 2002 where I first read about it in Chris Kilham’s book “Tales from the Medicine Trail” and began following an interest in this ancient food. I do use raw maca flour for cooking, baking, in pancakes, confections, etc. Where you can get it inexpensively, it is excellent for such uses. For therapeutic effects and everyday drink mix usage, presently I employ a ‘black gelatinized’ maca – it seems to be the strongest type energetically and for sexual effects, and ‘black root’ is my personal preference. ‘Gelatinized’ means that it’s fiber has been removed (skimmed off), and goitrogens denatured – it is a few times concentrated over the powder / flour. Naturally, it is less bitter than any uncooked flour product. The gelatinized processing was developed specifically to address the digestion/goitrogen issue inherent with the root. That’s the process’ entire purpose – that’s why it even exists.
The trend in “health food” circles says to eat maca raw, in order to glean the mood, stamina, and sexual benefits which Andean people have known for thousands of years. These merchants never mention how the plant has always been prepared – cooked – perhaps the most crucial aspect of it’s identity. Why argue from antiquity about all the health benefits, while ignoring the food’s ethnobotany? It’s a mix of mistaken understanding, and because there’s profit in re-selling a highly marked up culinary flour. I see $20.00 – $25.00 a pound slapped on maca flour in health food stores — on a product which can be found $2-4 a kilogram in Peru ($1.36 – $1.81/lb!). This is precisely why some regional foods / surpluses suddenly become “superfoods.” In maca’s case there is a genuine positive effect being felt… so, like the mood boost one feels with coffee, maca is an easy sell. Most companies have a whole marketing song & dance… and they make a LOT of money.
Pay a price of $20/lb only for the gelatinized product, which has actually been processed for immediate consumption. Do not pay this for a re-packed culinary flour.
Hi T, Thank you so much for the information! We actually suggest adding the powder/flour to preexisting recipes, such as smoothies.
Thanks for sharing T Lane, is there a brand that you can recommend? I live in Australia and haven’t seen the black geletinized version anywhere.
Thank you for your post T Lane. Being someone who has a slight thyroid problem this information is important especially since I was about to go buy a bag and start throwing it in some smoothies. I think if your general health is in good shape this might not be too bad eaten raw. How much of the health benefits are depleted due to heat? Thank you for any help.
T Lane knows his stuff!!! Actually NO root should be eaten raw, especially the ones, like Maca which hasn’t been hybridized to no longer contain phytochemicals…. All roots have anti-nutrients when uncooked. I just bought some from Femenessence that is concentrated and reduced and supposedly for the endocrine and hormones which are part of the thyroid…and yet this stuff is a goitrogenic…… I need to check with the company to see if they took out the goitrogens…. It did give me major gas tho! So it must be raw…
glad to read this, because i was thinking it was me, i couldn’t understand why i didn’t like the flavor not realizing it was a flour. i will buy the black gelatinized this weekend to continued drinking it in my green smoothies. Thanks for the information, sadly we are paying such a high amount for this flour.
An employee at the local grocer advised me that anyone taking birth control pills should not use maca root powder due to the hormonal impacts of both….I have not seen this anywhere in any literature I’ve found to date on maca. Has anyone else heard this or have an opinion on the validity of an adverse interaction?
Hi Kelly Anne, we suggest consulting your doctor or naturopath if there are concerns about interaction with certain prescription medications.
What about the effects maca has on your tummy? I’ve tried this root before and I love whatnit does for the body but it gives me such a belly ache.
Hi Jolene, if you find you are sensitive to maca, then try using it sparingly and be sure to mix into a smoothie or other meal! Just like any other food (or superfood!), it’s not for everyone, so definitely find what works best for you. Good luck!
My thoughts are these:
There is a lot of marketing of “superfoods” out there. When I go on line to see the so called benefits of maca the only information I get is from the actual companies who sell it. So it’s hard for me to believe what maca actually does and what it consists of. The chalkboard article seems to be a cut and paste directly from the marketing material I find on line. I appreciate the information of T Lane who actually gave some real information on the subject. These blogs I find, like Chalkboard I happened upon, should do a much better job on their research if they want to be an authority on health , wellness, food, and the rest. You may have big names as editors but the first article I read on maca gave no new information to a reader lie me… do your part. Hopefully this is constructive criticism.
I love Maca, I have been taking it for about 6 months now and can say I do have more energy. I feel a lot better compared to taking other things. Thank you for the post
So glad you’ve been able to reap the benefits of Maca, Chris!
Well I have been taking maca root for about two months all to find out yesterday that it crossed my depo provera and I am now 6 weeks pregnant so I say be careful I have seen a lot of benefits from using this product but wasn’t aware that I would get pregnant. My husband and I just gave birth to a little guy Oct 1st 2013 so.
I’m taking maca root powder for almost 2 years now to keep my energies high and it works great. But when I started taking it I had some stomach issues because of it and I had to stop taking it for a couple of weeks to get better. Then I was advised to switch the raw maca for gelatinized maca type. I decided to give it another try and started taking Gelatinized powder, felt the difference right away – no stomach issues at all. So, from my experience i would advice going on the gelatinized maca – it’s much better for digestion.
Maca root is effective to help with depression. It was one of the components of the herbal pack i used for my son who had issues, and we saw results within 2 days. Unfortunately we lost him 4 years ago but i was glad i tried maca root.
Guys what about thyroid and maca? Should I be careful if not having acute thyroid malfunction? Please advise!