The History of Maca
Maca (Lepidium Meyenii) is an annual herbaceous plant of the Brassicaceae family, native to the region of Junin, Peru.
It grows within the range of 3,500 – 4,500m where the extreme conditions provide little competition within the soil from other plants.
The cultivation of maca dates back to the days of the Pre-Columbian Inca who would refer to the plant as the ‘food of the gods’ due to its medicinal properties.
Legend says that the Inca were in search of gold in the mountains of San Blas (near Junin) when they came across a cave (the Cradle of Pachamacay) containing a mummified body buried with no more than a simple box of seeds from a mysterious plant.
They cultivated the seeds into the resulting maca bulb and so began a 2000-year history that would play a vital role within their evolution and culture.
It is said the Inca would trade in maca as currency and that they valued it even more than gold itself. They claimed the gods had given them maca to ensure life-long health, fertility, and strength. It is believed that Incan warriors would consume up to 200g per day before battle to help with stamina and endurance at altitude.
Shamans would use boiled preparations for the treatment of fertility for both humans and animals and noble elites in the society would consume maca daily for longevity and well-being.
Today the harvest of maca continues to celebrate the plant through a month-long festival that gives thanks to Pachamama (mother earth) for providing them with the Incan medicine. The opening of this festival is held annually in Junin at the original site of cultivation, in front of the cave at the Cradle of Pachamacay.
The ceremony consists of a blessing from a local shaman, followed by stories, songs, and dance from representatives of the different maca growing regions within Junin.
Each region has its own unique way to celebrate maca, including street festivals, music, ceremonies, and feasts in the form of pachamanca (food cooked underground – similar to a New Zealand Hangi).
For these people, maca is not merely a plant - it is a culture, tradition, history, and way of life.
Check out the videos below to see some of the ceremonies and celebrations!!!
The Growing and Harvesting of Maca
Maca is a strong plant that takes a lot of nutrients from the soil.
The soil actually needs ten years to recover after Maca has been grown in it. This means crop rotation is essential to ensure healthy soil and good quality Maca.
During this ten year period crops that enrich the soil are grown in order to make it healthy for the Maca to be grown there again.
Many Maca harvesters do not want to do this properly and regrow Maca over and over again on the same plot of land, because it is cheaper.
This overuse of the soil leads to Maca that has little to no nutritional or medicinal value.
Maca is a plant that cannot be rushed and commands a respect based on thousands of years of local wisdom and knowledge.
Check out the video below to see how Maca is grown and harvested.
The Colors of Maca
There are three main colors of Maca, with each color having different unique properties. All three colors are cultivated from the same seed crop, so in essence, you cannot independently cultivate a single color.
This leaves you at the mercy of genetic phenotype dominance and a set ratio of approximately 70% yellow maca, 20% red maca, and 10% black maca after harvest.
The shamans claim this is not by chance, but more about how ‘she’ (la maca) wants to you consume her. As such, the three different colors are prepared and taken differently depending on the body’s requirements and condition(s) being treated.
Yellow Maca is for daily use and long-term balance, red and black are sacred and saved for acute or chronic therapeutic use.
Yellow Maca is the most abundant of the three colors and is claimed to be the neutral form that should be taken daily and used for long-term balance and resilience to stress. Scientifically, we know that yellow maca has the broadest general array of macamides and other bioactive compounds.
Red Maca is rarer and is thought to be more sacred and saved for acute treatment of constitutional imbalances. Red is considered feminine and can promote internal balance for those lacking in nourishment.
Black Maca is the rarest form of maca and is thought to be the most sacred and saved for acute treatment of constitutional insufficiencies. Black is considered masculine and can promote strength, power, stamina, and brain health.
Maca naturally grows in a mixed ratio of colors. It is important to combine the colors following the traditional uses to ensure optimum effect.
These are the rules that have been followed for thousands of years in Peru by the shamans and the rules we want to promote for those wanting to get the best out of their maca.
Check out the video below to learn more about the different colors of Maca.
Should you eat Raw Maca?
In Junin, maca bulbs are always sun-dried before being boiled in teas, porridge, soups, or stews. In recent times, after being dried it has also been ground into maca powder to increase surface area and to allow easier inclusion into various meals.
Maca should be sun-dried at high altitudes for three months, in order to help prevent the formation of toxic molds and help to develop many of the beneficial compounds.
Most companies skip this important sun-drying step and instead oven dry it because it is cheaper and faster.
This leads to maca that is much lower in beneficial constituents.
The Inca believed that cooking maca made it more potent as a therapeutic and more easily digestible.
Why does maca need to be cooked?
Science has shown that the bioactive macamides in maca are heat-activated molecules. Their formation occurs from the breakdown of heat-sensitive glucosinolates in the fresh bulb during the drying and cooking processes.
Our studies have shown that cooked maca is more bioactive than its raw counterpart. Furthermore, it is sanitized, lower in starch, and much easier on the stomach.
Raw maca can contain high levels of aflatoxin producing mold.
Aflatoxins are poisonous carcinogens (cancer-causing) and can have serious negative effects on the body and gastrointestinal system.
Raw maca also contains high levels of starch (amylose and amylopectin). Starch can often be hard to digest if eaten raw and may give some people symptoms such as bloating, gas, distention, and abdominal discomfort. Think of it like eating a raw potato.
Maca has always been traditionally cooked or heated and studies show that the health benefits are not diminished by these processes and if anything they are enhanced.
If you are eating raw maca and not gelatinized maca, you are not going to be getting the benefits you desire.
Check out the videos below to learn more about the drying of Maca and why you should not eat raw maca.
Quality Control and Adulteration
As demand for Maca has skyrocketed so has the proliferation of quality control and adulteration issues.
There are many types of adulteration and contamination that can occur with Maca.
One example is that companies will add caramelized sugars in order to give it a certain color and taste.
Another thing that happens is companies will claim to be selling red or black Maca but are actually using yellow Maca because it is less expensive and the powders appear the same.
Some companies will sell raw maca but label it as gelatinized Maca.
Some companies mix raw and gelatinized maca together.
Some Maca products are very high in heavy metals like lead.
Some Maca is adulterated with various types of starches like maltodextrin in order to give the product a specific taste or look.
These are just a few of the many quality control issues that can arise with Maca.
Some Maca products are actually made from illegal Maca that was grown in China and labeled as Peruvian Maca.
You can read the sordid tale of the horrible things that the Chinese government and The Red Dragon Mafia (who are also involved with human trafficking and other horrors) did to the Peruvian farmers and people here:
Read more about the Red Dragon Mafia here:
Rooted Nutrition is proud that 100% of the Maca we source is free of these ethical issues.
Check out the videos below to learn more about quality control and adulteration issues with Maca products.
As with sourcing every product, the first and most important thing to consider is how it affects the people growing or harvesting it and the environment.
No matter how good a finished product is, if it caused suffering to the people producing it, or damaged the environment, it is not worth it.
There is no reason to compromise on these areas. Corporations often try to make us feel as if we need to choose. They are wrong.
We should never sacrifice our ethics in order to save a few dollars or make things a little easier.
Sure it would be far more profitable for us to source cheap Maca that paid the farmers little to nothing and the finished product might even be good in some cases but is pushing or keeping farmers in poverty really what we want to do?
Sure we could make more money by selling raw Maca that cost almost nothing to produce, but it would not have the benefits people are looking for, but is that really what we want to do?
Sure we could save a lot of money buying Maca that skipped the proper drying process and might be full of mold and lack the benefits of properly dried Maca, but is that really what we want to do?
We will never make you choose between quality and ethics.
We will never put profits over people.
Check out the videos below to learn more about the ethical sourcing of Maca.
So which company should you buy Maca from?
Rooted Nutrition searched for a very long time to find a line of Maca products that met our standards for ethics, sustainability, quality, efficacy, and simply could not find a product available in the United States.
So we started to search around the world for a company that would meet those standards.
After a nearly year-long search, we finally found a small company in New Zealand who did all the right things.
Their belief in an ethics first model fits perfectly with what we believe at Rooted Nutrition.
We are proud to be able to bring you these amazing products that were previously unavailable in the United States.
Check out the link below to learn more about this incredible company, the people behind it and how they are improving the lives of the Peruvian people.