Arracacha, Apio

Arracacia xanthorrhiza

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Also arracha, Peruvian carrot, Peruvian parsnip, apio amarillo (Hispanic Caribbean)

Combine aspects of carrot, celeriac, and root parsley; add a dose of tropical tubers; and you have a hint of the range of tastes and textures of the rather elusive vegetable called arracacha or apio in U.S. markets. The tropical side expresses itself with subtle savors of plantain, yuca, and coconut, combined. Its texture and color, too, hint at plantain and yuca, with their special sweet stickiness, and plantain’s warm golden hue. (In its original area of distribution—the Andes from Venezuela to Bolivia—and in areas later cultivated, from the highlands to Central America, apio grows in brighter, deeper colors than what comes to us, which is mainly from Costa Rica.) Whatever the comparison, arracacha seems to measure up to and exceed expectations, even for those tasting it for the first time.

“Apio” is also the Spanish word for celery, itself a member of the family of Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae)— as are arracacha and the three root vegetables mentioned above. This may be one reason why some publications have misidentified celeriac as arracacha, causing confusion among unwary grocers and shoppers. In common with celeriac, apio presents a scruffy surface, hides a sweetly aromatic interior, and shows us only a portion of itself in its marketed form. But in the case of apio, it is not just the leafy branches that are missing but what many in Latin American consider the vegetable itself, which has two distinct parts: a stumpy “neck” and carrot-like “fingers.” According to those who have eaten the whole vegetable, the fingers are smoother, more tender, and less concentrated in flavor than the neck we see in North American groceries. Judging from the perishability of that seemingly sturdy part, my guess is that the torpedo-shape roots may have an even more fleeting shelf life. Or perhaps it is the climatic requirements and tricky growing procedures that prevent it from being raised in the United States? Two horticultural adventurers, the indefatigable and insatiably curious messieurs Paillieux and Bois, recorded one of their rare defeats when they wrote in Le potager d’un curieux (a fact-filled gem as original today as when it was first published in 1892) that apio “showed itself to be rebellious to every attempt at cultivation.”

So we are fortunate that a fresh flock of immigrants has demanded this vegetable in their new home and that others can sample its creamy, tacky, sweetish, herbal deliciousness.

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