To some, it's yacon. To others, Peruvian sweet root. "My partner is from Peru," L.A. gardener Derbeh Vance said. “The yacon produces a root that looks like a sweet potato, and is like a jicama or a sweet potato."
Fresh yacon tastes like a cross between a melon and an apple, explaining why yet another common name is Peruvian ground apple. Originating in the Andes, yacon was used as roadside fast food for travelers between Incan cities, according to some historical accounts.
Vance grew one that reached more than 10 feet, sending out leaves that looked like sunflowers, a distant cousin. One day, after the flowers had started to fade, he noticed the ground underneath was swollen. He figured he had gophers.
"So I chopped it down and started digging," Vance said, "and I got 60 pounds from one plant."
Vance works at Project Angel Food and brought part of his unexpected harvest there, asking a chef to use his imagination. "It was so crispy and fresh and sweet that I worried they wouldn't hold up well to cooking," he said. "We had them mashed, toasted and broiled, and it turned out wonderfully. The baked were the best."