Mushua - A Tasty Transformation of Tropaeolum Tubers?

Mashua is one Andean root crop whose flavour is resistant to all my enthusiastic attempts to acquire a liking for it. Every time I see those fat and enticing tubers, my mind fills with desire, yet one taste and my ardour wanes.

That's a pity, because it grows quite well here (watch out for cabbage white caterpillars though) and the yields are often not bad. It throttles weeds with its vigorous, tangled growth and has beautiful flowers.

With an intensive breeding effort for early tuberisation, this plant might have a future as a food in northern latitudes. I know for a fact that seed production is quite possible, if you give it protection from early frosts.

Maybe it's just my incorrigible palate, but prepared simply, by boiling or roasting, it tastes simply terrible. Reading some of the literature, it appears that it needs special preparation - boiling followed by freezing, for example. Perhaps mashua ice cream is a possibility in that case: just add lots of cream and lots of sugar. Following on from my success with yakraut, lactofermented yacon tubers, I thought I ought to explore the same method as a means of rendering mashua more palatable. I mean, people do actually eat this plant as a staple carbohydrate, don't they?

When I was lifting the remnants of the harvest weeks ago, I noticed that some of the frosted tubers had developed a slightly lactofermented smell before decaying further. I wondered whether it might it be possible to arrest decay at this stage and work with these natural processes to produce a more palatable foodstuff.

Lactofermentation of starchy roots is not unknown. In Hawaii, poi is made from cooked and fermented taro corms and is considered a delicacy. Cassava roots can be turned into fufu by the same basic method. Might mashua be similarly converted by the application of this tried and trusted technology?

I grated the tubers and was surprised by the differences in flesh colour between the three varieties.

I sprinkled salt on the layers as I filled the jar, then I weighed it down as before.

I was also surprised by the large quantity of juice that was produced and by its colour - not dissimilar to red wine. Could this be the anti-oxidant elixir we've all been waiting for? That smell, mashua's distinctive signature, quickly persuaded me to abandon all thoughts of imbibing it.

Fermentation was initially sluggish for the first few days, then the room began to smell of something like burning rubber; this was followed by several days of frequent mephitic wafts that wouldn't have been out of place emanating from a Borneo bat cave. Finally the smell subsided, to be replaced by the familiar odour of happy lactobacilli at work. Could it be a case of Tropaeolum tuberosum tamed?

The ghastly logic of what I had started and therefore must complete was clear: I must taste this witches' brew and let my palate decide whether or not mashua's base metal had been converted to gold.

This new product, henceforth to be known as mushua, had a powerful, though not unpleasant smell. So what did it taste like? Well, a bit like sauerkraut, with that peculiar violet perfume taste in the background - moderated, but not eliminated. It wasn't that good, but then, as I manoeuvred a small clump of mushua strands around my mouth, I realised that it wasn't that bad either. I just kept getting the powerful insight that it might be an excellent way of eliminating internal parasites. Hippocrates used to bang on about about food and medicine being interchangeable. Mushua seems to prove it.

Mushua's not going to win any prizes in a taste trial, but the fact that I actually managed to eat what must have been close to a mouthful suggests that I might, just might, be on the right track. Next time I'll cook the tubers first and then ferment them. Or ferment them, then cook them and then ferment them again - there's got to be a way to reach some kind of culinary rapprochement with this tricksy Tropaeolum. Are there any other brave souls out there who would like to share my heavy burden? Mushua is probably just the base camp in a long ascent to Beulah Land, where all bitterness is cast aside. Amen.


Mark said…
According to the "Lost crops of the Andes" NAP it is an antiaphrodisiac that men thus avoid it like the plague, reserving it for women.
Mark said…
Does it taste similar to anything else commonly eaten in Britain?
Rhizowen said…
Hi Mark

The only women I know who've eaten mashua feel pretty much the same as I do - they don't like it. I know that there's some evidence to support the anaphrodiasiac qualities - testosterone reduction in male rats etc.

The taste is superficially like a radish - mustard oils I guess, but it's that persistent bitterness and strange flavour that are so unfamiliar to my palate. I'd love to hear what other people really think about eating mashua.

As a total aside: do you ever hike through the Huachuca Mtns AZ,in late summer? Or Catron, Grant, Lincoln, Otero or Sierra counties of NM? I'm interested in getting some seed of the Huachuca Mountain morning glory (Ipomoea plummerae) - could be edible. Any Lomatium species in NM?
Mark said…
I shall ask the systematist Patrick who hikes everywhere. Systematists are very useful people they know where every plant is. I'll get back to you on that one.
Mark said…
One other thing, if your looking for Lomatium seeds. Alan Kapuler of Peace Seeds sells certain species
Rhizowen said…
Thanks Mark

Just had a d'oh! moment - I see that Alan Kapuler has got Lomatium listed in the SSE yearbook. That's how behind I've got with my bedtime reading.

Have the Amphicarpaeas arrived yet? Bit early I expect.
Mark said…
Thinking about the weird taste problem (procrastinating over the final parts of thesis, e.g. its driving me crazy). Found whole bunch of Spanish black radish recipes. These may work for mashua to make it palatable.
Rhizowen said…
Thanks Mark

There's got to be some way of making mashua taste edible. Good luck with your procrastination.
Geronimo said…
Hello, I would like to have a go at growing it and trying to quell its taste. COuld i ask where you can get it? Many thanks, Ger
Rhizowen said…
Hi Geronimo

Where do you live?
Geronimo said…
hi, In Ireland. Have you a web address i could send my full address to? I don't want to put it up here.
Geronimo said…
Apologies for my last message - my email address is If you contact me there i can send my details to your email address. Many thanks for this, Geronimo
Anonymous said…
I've recently removed some dead mashua vines, and its quite hard ;). Is there any way to use those long vines as a fiber after processing (like flax)?
Might be a better use than eating 'em.