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Page 39 Ahipa The ahipa 1 (Pachyrhizus ahipa) is a leguminous plant, but—unlike its relatives the pea, bean, soybean, and peanut—it is grown for its underground parts. Ahipa's fleshy, tuberlike roots can weigh up to 1 kg. Their white interior is succulent, flavorful, crisp like an apple, and can be eaten raw. The roots of a close relative, the jicama 2 (P. erosus), are a favorite food of Central America and Southeast Asia and are becoming popular in the United States as a salad ingredient. Increasing amounts of jicama (pronounced hee-ca-ma) are imported from Mexico. Indeed, it has become the top selling specialty vegetable in the United States. Recently, its wholesale price reached $2.50 a kilo, an amazing figure for a root crop. Ahipa (pronounced a-hee-pa) has received almost no agronomic attention, yet it produces a root similar to the jicama's, and could meet with the same enthusiasm. Indeed, ahipa may have even greater potential than its better known cousin. Unlike the jicama plant, the ahipa plant is small, nonclimbing, fast maturing, and unaffected by daylength. 3 Its rapid growth and low, sometimes dwarflike habit make it well suited for large-scale commercial cultivation. Ahipa could therefore be the key to a vast new root crop, even for temperate regions. Today, however, ahipa is grown only in a few pockets of the Andean mountains. It is cultivated in Bolivia and Peru in fertile valley floors between 1,500 and 3,000 m elevation, and in the ceja de selva (“eyebrow of the jungle”) area. It was once found in Jujuy and Salta provinces in northern Argentina, but no longer. 4 1 Usually spelled “ajipa.” However, for this report we have chosen the “ahipa” spelling, the pronunciation of which is more obvious to the English-speaking public. 2 Also known as yam bean or sinkamas (Philippines). This plant is described in the companion report, Tropical Legumes. It is not the “jicama” of Ecuador and Peru, which is better called “yacon” (see page 115). 3 Samples from Bolivia and Peru have, under glasshouse conditions in Denmark, proved to be insensitive to daylength. Information from M. Sørensen. 4 Information from M. Sørenson.
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Page 40 In contrast to most other root crops, the plant has the legume family advantage: rhizobia bacteria in its root nodules make nitrogenous compounds that nourish the plant. This fertilizer undoubtedly helps it grow vigorously in impoverished sites and enriches the soil in which it is planted. Other salient features are the crop's high yield and considerable disease and pest resistance. PROSPECTS Andean Region. As more is learned about ahipa and its potential across the region, its use could become more intensive. However, its temperature and other climatic constraints need to be understood before its true potential becomes apparent. Other Developing Areas. Although the jicama is a favorite food in Mexico, Central America, and parts of tropical Asia, ahipa is little known outside the Andes. Nonetheless, in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and highland parts of Central America it could have much appeal. Industrialized Regions. In the United States (thanks largely to a growing Latin and Oriental population), jicama now appears regularly in supermarkets coast to coast. All of it is imported. Ahipa could earn similar popularity, and might be grown in the United States itself, as well as in Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and other nations. As a result, this round, brown root with the crisp, bright taste could be a new addition to millions of dinner tables, as well as a low-calorie food for the diet-conscious. USES Ahipa tubers are mainly eaten raw. The white 5 flesh is sweet and refreshing and is especially popular in summer. It is often sliced thin and eaten raw in green salads and fruit salads. Since it is slow to discolor, soften, or lose its crunch, it is particularly suited to garnishes or hors d'oeuvres. Ahipa can also be cooked. It is often lightly steamed or boiled, and retains its crunchy texture even after cooking. It fries up much like a potato. For stir-frying and braising (briefly) it can be a replacement 5 In Bolivia is found a purple and magenta striped form, which may be a particularly decorative addition to salads.
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Page 41 ~ enlarge ~ Ahipa is one of the least known, but most interesting, of the plant kingdom's edible roots. Its tubers are usually eaten raw and make a crunchy, delectable snack. The plants shown here were grown in Denmark, an indication that ahipa probably can be produced as a food crop in many places outside the Andes. (F. Sarup) for water chestnuts. It absorbs sauces quickly and without softening. Even paper-thin slices seem to keep their characteristic freshness. NUTRITION The nutritional content of ahipa is unknown, but is probably similar to that of jicama. If so, it is low in sodium and calories (containing approximately 50 calories per cup raw) and is a good source of potassium and vitamin C. The starch of jicama is easily digestible. 6 The protein content on a dry matter basis is higher than that of other root crops, but fresh tubers have a low protein content because their moisture content is extremely high. 6 Approximately 80 percent of the starch particles are below 5 microns in diameter, and after a period of 16 hours in the digestive tract, 75 percent of the starch has been metabolized by glucoamylase as against 40 percent of the starch from sweet potato. K. Tadera, T. Tanguchi, M. Teramoto, M. Arima, F. Yagi, A. Kobayashi, T. Nagahama, and K. Ishihata. 1984. Protein and starch in tubers of winged bean, Psophocarpus tetragonolobus (L.) DC., and yam bean, Pachyrrhizus erosus (L.) Urban. Memoirs of the Faculty of Agriculture (Kagoshima University) 20:73-81.
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Page 42 AGRONOMY The plants are easily propagated by seed and, except for good manuring of the soil before planting, require little attention. They can also be propagated using small tubers, which greatly reduces the growing time. In some areas, to encourage large, sweet roots, the flowers are plucked. This is said to double the size of the tubers. Ahipa has a comparatively short growth period. It begins flowering about 2.5 months after planting; harvest takes place after 5–6 months. HARVESTING AND HANDLING In general, the roots are handled, stored, and marketed like potatoes. However, they can be stored in the soil—by cutting off the plant tops—until needed. LIMITATIONS Only the root is safe to eat. Leaves, stems, roots, ripe pods, and seeds contain insecticide 7 and may be toxic to humans. No yield figures are available at present because no studies have been carried out. RESEARCH NEEDS The conservation of varieties and landraces of ahipa is of the utmost importance. 8 These almost certainly include potentially aluable germplasm, and many are threatened with extinction. For example, the landraces of the Argentinian provinces of Jujuy and Salta, as well as of the Bolivian Yungas, have almost disappeared. Ahipa should be collected from the Indian fields throughout the Andes before it is too late. The materials collected should be made available to institutes that deal with crop development and mutation genetics. 9 Special 7 By analogy with jicama, the insecticide is almost certainly rotenone. 8 A biosystematic research project examining the potential of the genus is currently being carried out at The Botanical Laboratory, University of Copenhagen, and The Botanical Institute of Crop Husbandry and Plant Breeding, both at the Royal Agricultural University, Copenhagen. A considerable collection of seed material of both wild and cultivated species has been obtained through various institutions, and collections were made in the original distribution area of the genus in 1985. Information from M. Sørensen. 9 Because in tropical environments the seed remains viable for only three or four years, duplicates of all seed collections should be housed under controlled temperature and humidity at modern seed banks.
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Page 43 attention should be given to differences in protein content; because the species is leguminous, it seems likely that types with exceptional protein levels in their roots will be found. Considerable variation in the size and quality of the roots, growth habit, leaf morphology, and ecological preferences have been recorded. There is a need for thorough tests involving a wide range of materials. Methods used for growing ahipa throughout the Andes should be reviewed and concerted research programs organized to apply modern agronomic knowledge to boost production. Trials of spacing, fertilization, pest control, irrigation, and other cultural requirements are needed, with particular attention to the effect of intensive management on the culinary quality. High moisture content makes ahipa tubers shrivel and lose condition more quickly than other root crops. Improved methods of storage and transportation are needed, as well as, perhaps, cultivars with a thicker epidermis. The nodulation requirements should be studied in detail, along with identification of the specific symbiotic organisms. Ahipa has promise for reducing the daylength sensitivity of related species. Hybrids between ahipa and jicama (which is very sensitive to daylength variations) might produce a valuable new man-made crop that expands the range of both parents and whose root growth might be independent of latitude and season. The pods deserve research attention as well. It is thought that some varieties contain almost no insecticide, at least when green. There is the possibility that these could constitute a source of protein-rich food. Ahipa then would simultaneously provide a nutritious green vegetable and a valuable tuber crop. Research might also identify when insecticide develops in the pods or seed. If harvested before that, all types might be used as green vegetables. SPECIES INFORMATION Botanical Name Pachyrhizus ahipa (Weddell) Parodi (Also spelled Pachyrrhizus ahipa.) FamilyLeguminosae (Fabaceae) Synonym Dolichos ahipa Wedd. Common Names Quechua: ajipa, asipa Aymara: villu, huitoto Spanish: ahipa, ajipa, achipa (South America); dabau (Ecuador); fríjol chuncho (Bolivia, Peru), judía batata, poroto batata (Argentina) Portuguese: ahipa German: andine Knollenbone
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Page 44 Origin. Ahipa has never been recorded in the wild state. Although the present area where this species is found in cultivation is restricted to a limited number of Andean valleys, the existence of archeological evidence from geographical areas outside its present distribution indicates that this crop was cultivated widely in the Andes at least 2,000 years ago. Description. This species is a nonclimbing, erect or semi-erect herb usually no more than 30–60 cm in height. Its trifoliate, pubescent leaves have asymmetrical and entire leaflets; they are wider than they are long. The inflorescence is on short stalks (0.1–1.5 cm) with a few pale lavender or white blossoms. Its round to kidney-shaped seeds (0.8–1.0 cm) are normally dull black, but can be black-and-white or brown in color and grow in 8–11 cm long pods. Each plant has a single swollen root, which tapers towards both ends. The roots may be 15 cm (or more) in length, and usually weigh 500–800 g. Normally elongated or irregular in shape, they can also be nearly spherical. The pale yellow or tan skin encloses a white pulp that is interwoven with a soft fiber. Horticultural Varieties. None recorded. Environmental Requirements Daylength. Apparently neutral for both flowering and root formation. Rainfall. Although the plants grow well in locations ranging from subtropical to tropical and dry to wet, for good yields they require a warm climate with moderate rainfall. Altitude. Sea level to 3,000 m. Low Temperature. They are sensitive to frost. High Temperature. Unknown. Soil Type. As with other root crops, the soil should be light and well drained so as not to restrict tuber growth or encourage fungal rot. Related Species.Ahipa has several relatives that produce edible tubers. Its Mexican relative, the jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus), has already been mentioned. Another relative, the “potato bean” (P. tuberosus), is native to
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Page 45 tropical South America. 10 Its home is thought to be somewhere in the upper basin of the Amazon River. It is similar to ahipa, but the plant is a large herbaceous vine climbing taller than 10 m. Its large, tuberous root is used like ahipa's. At present, this species is restricted to isolated areas in the Amazonian regions of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, and possibly Venezuela and Colombia. It is grown by local Indian tribes in shifting cultivation or occasionally is collected from the wild. Ahipa has undomesticated relatives, such as P. panamensis and P. ferrugineus, that produce roots, but whether they are edible is uncertain. 11 ~ enlarge ~ 10 Some common names are nupe (Venezuela), jacutupé or macucú (Paraguay and Brazil), and dabau (Ecuador). 11 In greenhouse trials, the wild species have produced yields of similar quantity and tubers of the size and weight of the cultivated species. Information from M. Sorensen.
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