Oca – the taste test
In January one of our guest bloggers wrote about oca, a vegetable originally from South America that’s grown very much like potatoes. The knobbly tubers need a relatively long growing season before being harvested in the autumn, about 2 weeks after frost has killed the top growth. Exposing the harvested tubers to sunlight sweetens them.
Eaten raw, the oca tubers have a slightly lemony taste, which becomes more nutty during cooking. The tubers also lose their pink/red colour when cooked and turn cream instead. Oca can be cooked in the same way as potatoes and is perfect for adding to soups and stews. The leaves are edible too with a tangy lemon taste – add them to salads for a citrus twist.
Earlier this month we sent each of our trusty triallists a small batch of oca tubers to cook and taste and to let us know what they thought. We asked the testers to cook them in different ways and most tried boiling, roasting and stir-frying, while others microwaved or grated them raw into salads.
Boiled oca mashed with butter is the best way, according to one of our testers. Others reported a very mild sweet lemony flavour, not dissimlar to sweet potato and a texture like swede. The tubers retained a bit of the nuttiness and a lot of the flavour. One tester said “Very tasty, would recommend them.”
Roasted oca didn’t far so well in the taste test – they cooked well, but the flavour wasn’t very distinctive and they tasted very much like roast potatoes.
Our testers were very keen to try them raw, either sliced or grated over salad leaves or mixed with fresh salsa. Prepared in this way they were crunchy, with a texture of radishes and “lovely and crisp”. The mild, light fresh flavour of lemon changed to a nutty/earthy flavour.
When stir-fried the tubers stayed nice and crispy and had more flavour when cooked and added a bit of colour. One tester thought they would be good in a vegetable chilli or curry. The flavour was ‘zingier’ and the tubers retained their crunchy texture.
Microwaved for 30 seconds, they went soft and the texture was a bit like a chestnut. The taste was stronger when cooked and sweeter and less earthy. The skin also had a slight fruity/acidic taste. Another tester said they were still crunchy but microwaving them seemed to bring out a sweetness that wasn’t there in the raw tubers.
A couple of testers fried them and one said “By far the best was fried! I fried them in a little oil and the taste was superb. They didn’t need salt, pepper or vinegar to taste and I found them as tasty or even better than potato chips.”
So the overall verdict is that lightly cooking oca tubers, whether stir-frying or microwaving brings out the best flavours. Here are some final thoughts from our panel of taste testers:
“Best eaten with other vegetables or salads to obtain best flavour experience, not on their own. I thought the stir fried option the best, but having said that I would equally add them to salads and will be trying them in soups and stews.”
“I didn’t realise oca was so versatile! In a way a bit like potato in that they can be served up in a variety of ways, but with a better flavour than potato.”