Oca is a knobbly root vegetable that looks a bit like an artichoke. Don’t worry though; they don’t have the same windy after effect! The tubers have a tangy lemon taste which becomes deliciously nuttier when cooked. The red-skinned variety available from T&M have a crisp pale orange or creamy-coloured flesh – fans of ‘eating raw’ can simply wash and slice their oca tubers into salads or crunch them as a tasty and wholesome snack. Oca becomes more starchy when cooked and can be enjoyed similarly to potatoes – boiled, baked, mashed and fried – whilst the shoots and the attractive shamrock-shaped leaves can be added to salads to give a citrus type of tang.
‘We think that people are buying oca in response to more information being available about it’, commented Paul Hansord, T&M’s commercial director. ‘Oca is easy-to-grow and nutritious and, thanks to some good press recently, it seems to be increasingly appealing to health-conscious gardeners and foodies alike’.
Oca – aka New Zealand yam (it is grown commercially in New Zealand, hence its alternative moniker) – is cultivated extensively in the Andes where it is second only to the potato in terms of the most widely-grown root vegetable. T&M’s trials showed that the perennial oca plant performed well in the UK climate and did not suffer from blight or any noticeable pests. Oca is known to tolerate poor soils and different climatic conditions, which makes it ideal for any British kitchen garden. Plants are attractive too, so gardeners can also cultivate their oca in containers on the patio or decking area.
The nutritional and health-promoting benefits of oca make it well worth growing. It boasts a wide range of micro and macro nutrients including Vitamin C, iron, zinc, calcium, flavonoids, B vitamins and fibre. It is an excellent source of carbohydrates and phosphorus, as well as essential amino acids that promote the health and proper function of muscles, organs, nails, hair, skin and more. Oca is also notably low in calories.
Oca or New Zealand yam is available from Thompson & Morgan’s website www.thompson-morgan.com/oca . Due to the popularity of this nutritious, knobbly tuber and as T&M is only despatching oca until the end of March, customers are being offered 5 tubers for £4.50 and 10 tubers for £6.50 – half their original price. Gardeners will find full growing details for oca on the T&M website www.thompson-morgan.com/grow-oca .
Rosemary roasted oca: Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas 6.
Wash and then cut any larger oca into chunks so that they’re all roughly the same size.
Toss in just enough olive or sunflower oil to coat and then sprinkle with fresh rosemary leaves.
Season with salt and pepper.
Roast for about 15 minutes for very small ones, 20-25 minutes or so for larger oca. They’re ready when they feel tender when pierced with a knife.