Mashua: Wow, are we going to eat all of that?

Harvest time is a joyful time, when all your hard work is paying off and you get to anticipate many fine meals of delicious home grown produce.  It is all the more enjoyable when the plants yield really well.  Of course, sometimes plants yield a lot better than you really need them to.
4 pounds of mashua tubers harvested from a single, medium-sized,
early-harvested plant

One of those vegetables is mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum). Mashua has the distinction of one of the most complex vegetable flavors I have ever tasted.  If you’ve ever listened to a wine enthusiast go on and on listing the many flavors they detect in a sip of wine, you’ll have an idea what the mashua experience is like.

A bite of raw mashua begins with flowers, kind of like being stuck in an elevator with a woman who wears way too much perfume.  That is briefly followed by something savory but also watery, which gives way in turn to a hint of motor oil or burning plastic.  Just as you feel like your stomach is going to turn itself inside out, those flavors are all burned away by a strong (and welcome) peppery heat, which eventually wanes, leaving a hint of the perfume still lingering in the elevator.  Mashua is a journey and you’ll remember it.  There is nothing else like it… and that is probably good.

Happily, it tastes much better cooked, although you do give up the complexity.  Cooked mashua is a lot like turnip, except with that aftertaste of flowers.  It is much less pronounced, but still there.  This probably won’t excite too many people, since turnip isn’t exactly a favorite vegetable in most of North America.

Tubers range from less than an inch to over a foot, but most are 4-8 inches

I look at it (cooked) as a tolerable starchy staple, better as an ingredient in soups or stews or perhaps roasted with meat than as a stand-alone dish.  While it may not be a taste sensation, it is extremely tough, vigorous, and high yielding.  The leaves and flowers are also a nice addition to salads.  It is an excellent food for hard times.  I suspect that we will eventually find ways to prepare it that will use it to better effect as well.

It is also a good livestock food.  Our ducks and geese like the greens and the tubers, although the ducks have a hard time with the raw tubers and prefer them boiled.  It has a pretty good nutritional profile and hardy, care-free plants are ideal for growing feed.

I see a lot of potential in this plant.  Potential is not delicious, but it is engaging to the intellect.  You can’t help but like a plant that produces food this easily and it is close to something that could be tastier. That is the mashua trap.  Once you have been caught in it, you can’t escape, but at least it smells like flowers.

Mashua tubers are sometimes available in our seed shop.
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