(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
(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.
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.