There’s precious little written about the Ahipa (also known as the Ajipa). I’m not even sure where I first heard of it. I managed to get some seeds from Bolivia last year, and we planted half of them in the kitchen garden. They grew fabulously, and I have fallen in love with this delicious, tuber-producing plant.
Scientific name: Pachyrhizus ahipa
Also known as: Ajipa (a-hee-pa), Yam Bean, Andean Jicama, Andean Yam Bean, (South) American Yam Bean
Light: Full sun; Ahipa isn’t dependent on day-length, unlike its cousin the Jicama
Height: Low-growing, non-vining (unlike its cousins the Jicama and Goitenyo); 1-2 foot tall, erect or semi-erect
Soil: Ahipa will grow in almost any soil, largely due to its ability to fix nitrogen and enrich the soil it grows in. It is widely adaptable to different soil and climate conditions.
Water: Established plants can tolerate dry conditions, even for long periods. Roots will develop better with consistent moisture. I would recommend using a good, thick mulch to help conserve moisture and keep levels more consistent (we like wood-chip mulch for our vegetable garden).
Ahipa is in the Fabaceae family, also known as the bean, pea, or legume family. This is of particular interest because, like all members of the bean family, it means that Ahipa has the ability to fix nitrogen, making it a high-protein crop.
Two other protein-dense tubers are cousins of the ahipa – the Jicama (Mexican Yam Bean) and the Goitenyo (Amazon Yam Bean). The Jicama is much more well-known. I’ve even seen it on basic supermarket shelves in the produce section.
One description I came across, before we grew our own ahipas, stated that the ahipa tastes like a cross between sweet peas and celery with a slight hint of apple. I would agree with that, with an emphasis on the sweet pea flavor, which is predominant.
Propagation – Seeds
Ahipa grows easily and quickly from seeds. If you soak the seeds overnight, they germinate more quickly. However, all our seeds germinated, whether we soaked them or not.
Like beans, the ahipa grew better for us when we sowed them in place and didn’t disturb the roots by transplanting. Our transplanted plants still grew, but they were noticeably smaller, and slower growing.
We have grown both ahipa and jicama, and we had a lot more success with the ahipa. The jicama is temperamental and has strong preferences for day-length, temperature, etc.
The ahipa, on the other hand, doesn’t have such preferences. It’s also known as the Andean Yam Bean, and is able to grow in altitudes up to 7000 feet high (about 2000 meters) in the Andes, where the summers are cooler.
Our ahipa plants grew best when sown in place, in warmed soil. The seeds we planted early, in cooler soil, didn’t germinate until the soil was warm. I thought they weren’t going to germinate at all, so I sowed a couple more of our seeds near where I’d sown the first two, and then all four germinated at about the same time.
Once they were growing, it didn’t seem to matter what the weather did. We didn’t water them any particular way – just deep watering during two particular dry spells and the occasional summer rains took care of the rest.
When the weather turned cooler in the fall, our jicamas shivered right down instantly. But the ahipa carried on, and even produced some more flowers in the cool weather. It didn’t seem to know or care that the weather had changed, as long as the sun was shining, until we actually got a frost.
Our ahipas also grew faster than the jicamas, which surprised us initially. The jicama slowly vined up our bean teepees. The ahipa was vigorous and produced a large mound of deep green leaves within the first couple of weeks. They were flowering within 7 or 8 weeks. Tubers can be harvested within 5-6 months.
To produce the biggest and best tubers you can, it’s best if the ahipa doesn’t go to flower and produce seed pods. However, because our seeds were difficult to get ahold of in the first place, we wanted our ahipas to flower as much as possible. It had cost us $40 to get the original 17 seeds, and our aim the first year was to simply increase our ahipa seed bank, though we did end up getting some small, delicious tubers anyway (see “In the Kitchen” below). Now that we have hundreds of seeds, literally, we’ll be aiming to get as large of tubers as possible by pinching off the flowers.
We had no idea how much they would flower, but they produced an enormous amount of pods. Each pod contains from 1 to 6 seeds.
Ahipas are self-pollinating. Pollinators are unnecessary for pods to be produced. As a seed-saver, this was advantageous for me because even if they could cross with other legume plants (like my string beans), it’s highly unlikely that this would occur.
In the Garden
Ahipa is a low-growing, non-vining plant. Each of our plants produced a mound about 1.5 feet by 1.5 feet, and grew from 1-2 feet tall. We had planted them about a foot apart, but they didn’t seem to mind intermingling their leaves a bit.
Being tubers, they’ll grow best in a light soil, though they grew well enough in our heavy clay soil. They are widely adaptable to different soil conditions, whether rich or poor, because of their ability to fix nitrogen and enrich the soil they grow in.
They aren’t sensitive to day length, as jicamas are, and are widely adaptable to many climates. Established plants are tolerant of dry spells, even for long periods, but plenty of water is needed for good tuber development.
The flowers are beautiful. They were either light or dark purple. I saw bees and butterflies land on the flowers, but ahipa flowers are self-pollinating and don’t need pollinators.
The roots can be stored underground by cutting off the tops and leaving the tubers in the soil until you’re ready to harvest them.
If you’re looking for an unusual vegetable for your garden, especially one that’s easy to grow and tastes delicious, this is definitely one you’ll want to try.
We had very few problems with pests and diseases. The problems that we did have didn’t hinder the growth of the plant at all.
In the first few weeks, we found some nibbles on the leaves, though it didn’t look like a snail had done it because they were usually nibbled on the inside of the leaf, leaving a hole in the middle.
Once the plant matured, we did have a few munched leaf edges, but the snails or other pests must not have liked it much because they didn’t do much damage. According to the International Potato Center (IPC), which does research on tuber-producing crops, the leaves and stems of the ahipa contain rotenone which kills insects.
We did have some kind of disease of the leaves, which showed up later in the summer, but I don’t know what it was. It didn’t slow the growth or production of the plant at all, and it didn’t affect the flowers, the seeds or pods, or the tubers – only the leaves, which had some brown spots and some yellowing.
Nematodes, bean weevils, and bean common mosaic virus (BCMV) can affect the plant. Perhaps the BCMV was what caused the diseases we observed in the leaves.
Take care when harvesting ahipa so you don’t bruise or damage it, as this makes it much more likely to turn moldy very quickly.
In the Kitchen
The only part of the ahipa that is edible is the root/tuber.
The IPC states:
“The nutritional value of ahipa is higher than that of many other root crops in terms of protein, and its high water content means that its starch is easily digestible. It is also a good source of potassium and vitamins C and K.”
I’ve also found information that the South American people who consume it consider it to be a ‘cleanser’. Perhaps ahipa will become the next superfood craze, especially since it is low in calories, which would appeal both to foodies, as well as those that are calorie-conscious.
Even though we grew the ahipa mostly for the seeds the first year, we did harvest several small tubers. The tubers can grow up to 2 pounds each, but ours only weighed 3 or 4 ounces at the most. Still, it was good to be able to taste them our first year.
They peel easily (for many of the tubers, we were able to peel it simply by getting a thumbnail under the skin and peeling it off in strips). The tubers tasted almost exactly like jicama to me.
The ahipa root can be eaten either raw or cooked. It is so delicious raw that we haven’t bothered to try a cooked version of it yet. We ate it as a stand-alone snack, or chopped up and added to salads.
The ahipa still retains its crunchiness after being steamed or boiled, making it interchangeable with water chestnuts.
Or it can processed similar to the cassava into a type of flour, called gari.
The cassava, after being washed and peeled, is grated or mashed, and placed in a bag with weights placed on top to press out the moisture. After a day or two, the moisture-reduced cassava pulp is roasted, which further dries it. (This process is what makes cassava safe to eat, which contains toxins in the raw form.)
The dried cassava pulp, known as garri or gari, can be stored for a long period. Gari can be re-hydrated with water and made into a dough and baked into a form of flat bread, or cooked to form a sort of porridge.
The potential for the ahipa tuber to be turned into gari is fabulous news, because the ahipa contains higher nutrition than the cassava, with more protein and micro-nutrients, and it doesn’t contain toxins.
“Compared to cassava gari the ahipa root gari has a lot more protein and micronutrient density and therefore the crop demonstrates great potential for the marginal, drought-prone farming systems.”
The ahipa tubers grow sweeter with time, after being harvested, so allowing them to sit for a day or two before you eat them will make them taste sweeter, as the starch in the tuber breaks down into sugars. The tubers can lose water and become shriveled, though, so don’t let them sit for too long.
Cautions: Though the seeds contain lots of protein and oils, they are inedible because of toxins they contain. The leaves and stems also contain toxins and are also inedible.