What’s That Wednesday: Mashua Root

Mashua root. This vegetable caused a mini commotion in the produce section of Uwajimaya earlier this week so it has to be the subject of the first ever Fat Pig in the Market What’s That Wednesday feature.

Mashua Root

I walk around Uwajimaya and have all sorts of what’s that? moments, recipe epiphanies, and fits of curiosity. Shopping there is what gave me the idea to write What’s That Wednesday posts. It isn’t unusual for me to be standing in a market staring at a gnarled root vegetable wondering how to work it into dinner or quickly researching it on my phone which is how that friendly commotion started up around the locally grown produce endcap.

Mashua Root and Yacon Root at Uwajimaya Seattle

I saw these twisted tubers and had to pull over into the flower section to do a little research. Mashua is a relative of garden Nasturtium and produces a hardy, flowering vine that attracts hummingbirds. This totally appeals to me since hummingbirds hang out in my urban garden watching me snap photos of eponymous cupcakes and  weird veggies.

According to The International Potato Center mashua has been used traditionally to treat kidney disorders and recently to help prevent cancerous cell development in the colon, prostate, stomach and skin.

Mashua is an ancient root commonly cultivated in the Andes of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, and Venezuela. It’s currently an experimental crop in the Pacific Northwest. Go PNW! Incans ate mashua. Cool, right?

mashua root on black laquer tray

But while all that information is totally interesting (and confirmed by further research) it was misinformation that made the mini commotion. See…mashua is purported to have antibiotic properties and is used in Peruvian natural medicine as a diuretic and anti-aphrodisiac.

That’s ANTI-aphrodisiac. I’d like to take this moment to say…whoops, my bad…to the older gentleman who was really psyched when he heard that mashua might be pro-romance. Seriously…I am totally sorry, sir! I misread that part when I was hangin’ in the flower section researching.

And then when I was bagging up some mashua a super nice woman walked up to me and said, “What’s that?” I told her I’d just looked it up and a few facts which I got right but I got one wrong. ANTI-aphrodisiac. I left out the anti.

More people walked up and asked, “What’s that?” A small group gathered. The super nice woman joked that it was a good thing we didn’t have any prudes in the bunch.

I tried it raw: peeled and thinly shaved. Serious, clear, powerful pepper takes over a wispy, fragrant first note. That first, slightly floral taste is extremely brief. Mashua’s pepperiness, akin to daikon’s spice, ambushes you. The pepper builds and has its own symphony of peaks, smooth valleys. Roller coaster root. It’s an intriguing experience if you can handle a little wild ride.

mashua raw

Mashua is supposed to lose that peppery bite when cooked. It can be roasted, baked and soaked in molasses and honey to make a Peruvian sweet. I intend to figure that molasses one out and try it. I’ll update this post as I experiment with mashua.

An Uwajimaya employee came over to our giggling group and told us about the new locally grown offerings. Cool, right? I love Uwajimaya. Hopefully she amended my mistake because I heard the older gentleman ask her, “Is it really good for men and…you know?” I was walking away at that point but I heard her chuckle as she started to answer him.

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