Olluco: what is it and what benefits does it have?

Olluco is one of the staple foods of the Andean peasants of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. However, outside of these regions it is quite unknown.

Written and verified by the nutritionist Anna Vilarrasa on September 22, 2021.

Last update: September 22, 2021

The olluco (Ullucus tuberosus) is a plant of the family of the Basellaceaceaes that it is grown in some areas of the Andes. There it is one of the most widespread and economically important root crops, only behind the potato.

Its better known name is olluco, which derives from Quechua, but according to the different regions it receives different names: illaco in Aymara, melloco in Ecuador, ruba or chungua in Colombia and smooth potato in Bolivia and Peru.

Today it can be difficult to find it outside its regions of origin. But if you are curious to know more about this food, what its properties are and how to try it, we encourage you to continue reading this article.

Olluco main characteristics

The beginning of the cultivation of this plant for food purposes dates back to about 5000 years ago. Its external appearance and size are similar to those of the potato, although it has a more elongated shape. The color of the skin is different depending on the variety, from yellow to pink and purple.

It has a mild and rather sweet flavor, similar to that of beets, although it has a firmer consistency. It actually stands out for having a crunchy texture that remains even after cooking.

This food has been part of the traditional cuisine of the region for hundreds of years. On some occasions, its use was relegated by the presence of other vegetables from Europe. But today it is still a staple food and a source of important nutrients for a large part of the population.

However, outside these countries it is little known. In New Zealand it has been harvested for about 20 years and there it is known by the name of gems of the earth.

Its nutritional composition is very similar to that of the potato. The most prominent contribution is carbohydrates. In addition, it has an interesting amount of fiber and protein (compared to other tubers). The percentage of fat is almost non-existent.

Regarding micronutrients, it is worth highlighting the moderate contribution of vitamin C (similar to carrots or celery), vitamin A, potassium and antioxidants such as betalain.

The distribution of this food is not so much outside the Andes and it is difficult to find it in other markets.

Which has benefits?

Olluco can easily be introduced into the diet. Combined with other foods and within the framework of a healthy diet, its consumption has some health benefits:

  • Protector of skin, sight and bones: Vitamin A helps the formation and maintenance of bones, soft tissues, teeth, mucous membranes and skin.
  • Antioxidant action: the vivid color of olluco is due to some pigments, the most prominent being betalain, an antioxidant phytochemical. Antioxidants have the ability to prevent oxidation of other compounds and avoid oxidative stress. This last situation has been related to the appearance of some health problems, among which cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, premature aging and neurodegeneration stand out.
  • Mucilages are a type of soluble fiber with a slimy texture. When consumed they form a gel that can help lower cholesterol levels, heal wounds, improve constipation, soften and hydrate the digestive mucosa or strengthen diabetes control.
  • Ideal for everyone: like most tubers, it is a suitable food for the general population. It is quite light and digestive, although thanks to the presence of fiber it has a good satiety effect. It is an optimal energy source for students, athletes, and growing children.

The olluco in the kitchen

Olluco can be used like most tubers. In traditional Andean cuisine it serves as the basis for preparing soups and stews. But little by little it has gained prominence in other dishes, such as salads, where it is accompanied by the leaves of the same plant.

Pickled or pickled, it can also be added to salads and all kinds of sauces. The whole olluco is boiled or grilled and is an accompaniment to any meat, fish or egg dish. In the form of flour, it is added to stews to obtain a thicker and more consistent texture.

At the food level, the tuber is the part that is most used, although from time to time the leaves are also used (very similar to spinach). In a cool, dark place at room temperature they keep well for up to a year. If they are exposed to sunlight, the skin can turn green.

Olluco ajiaco recipe

This traditional dish of Peruvian cuisine is easy to prepare and very nutritious. It is perfect to know the food and enjoy all its flavor.

The ingredients needed for 4 servings are as follows:

  • 1 onion.
  • 1 tomato.
  • Olive oil.
  • Oregano and coriander
  • 1 cup of evaporated milk.
  • 1 glass of water or broth.
  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic.
  • 250 grams of fresh cheese.
  • 2 tablespoons ground yellow pepper.
  • 1/2 kilo of olluco and 1/2 kilo of potatoes.

To get started, cook the tubers in a pot with water and salt for 35 minutes. Once cooked, strain, peel and cut into medium-sized cubes. Reserve for later use.

Next, prepare the vegetables for the stew. Put a frying pan with olive oil on the fire and add the tomato and onion, peeled and cut. Add the ground garlic and, when it begins to brown, also add the yellow pepper and oregano. Pour the cup of water or broth, the potatoes and the olluco and cook over low heat.

Then add the evaporated milk and let it boil for a moment. After 5 minutes, crumble the fresh cheese and add the chopped coriander. After 2 minutes of cooking, the dish is ready to serve. This can be a main dish or served as a side dish.

Ajiaco is a typical Peruvian dish. The inclusion of the olluco is according to the geographical origin of the recipe.

Discover new nutritious foods

The melloco or the smooth potato has a texture and flavor similar to that of the potato. Its nutritional composition is very balanced and it can be incorporated into the daily diet without any problem.

However, it can still be a bit difficult to find outside of regions where it is an ancient food. If you have the opportunity to try it, we encourage you to prepare one of the many recipes that can be made with it.