The fresh roots, which are considered a treat, are baked or roasted in ashes. The dried roots are mainly boiled in milk or water to create a savory, fragrant porridge. It also make a popular sweet, fragrant, fermented drink (maca chicha) that is often mixed with hard liquor to make “coctel de maca.”
It is the dried roots that are most used. After sun-drying, they become brown, soft, and sweet, with a musky flavor. It is reported that the flavor remains strong for two years, and often for much longer.
No part of the plant is wasted. Even the leaves reportedly are eaten. (The plant is a close relative of cress, the European green whose pungent leaves are eaten in salads.) Maca is also a choice Andean feed for fattening guinea pigs for the table.
In some areas of the Puna, maca is important in the diet. It has one of the highest nutritional values of any food crop grown there. The dried roots are approximately 13–16 percent protein, and are rich in essential amino acids. The fresh roots contain unusually high amounts of iron and iodine, two nutrients that are often deficient in the highland diet.
In addition to its nutritious ingredients, some antinutritional factors—alkaloids, tannins, and small quantities of saponins—have been reported.
During storage, the nutritional value stays high. Seven-year-old roots still retain a high level of calories as well as 9–10 percent protein.3
Maca husbandry is difficult, and the cropping system used to grow it is complex. To obtain seed, the strongest plants are left in the ground at harvest time. About a month later, when hard freezes have killed the tops of the plants, they are transplanted (with all their secondary roots) to special plots in unused sheep corrals or manure piles. There they are covered with soil and heavily manured.
Within a few weeks, new shoots appear. In a month or two, numerous flowers rise, and 3–4 months later, seed is set. The seeds are allowed