In praise of Oca

I’m intrigued by the idea of growing more perennial veg. Less sowing, pricking out, thinning. Less work. I’ve written about my adventures with Jerusalem Artichokes – now mercifully eradicated again. I am still trying to keep a Welsh Onion alive for long enough to explore its possibilities. But I have discovered that I love Oca.

oca leaves

Oca is a South American tuber, widely grown in Bolivia and Peru, and a bit like Jerusalem Artichokes, once you have them, it is hard to get rid of them. The tubers form over the late summer/early autumn, topped with a lovely froth of weed-suppressing foliage. The leaves die back with the first frosts, and you can start harvesting them soon afterwards. I tend to leave mine in the ground until at least November, they seem to survive well, and don’t get munched by birds or slugs. In fact, I am still gradually working my way through last year’s crop, as I “Moved” them to another bed – of course that meant they came up in both…

oca-flowers

I’ve found them very easy to grow, and the yellow flowers and attractive foliage make them an aesthetically pleasing addition to the kitchen garden, but none of that would be reason enough to let them use valuable growing space. Its the taste.

oca-tubers

You can get lots of different colours, I bought my tubers from Real Seeds two years ago, and mine are a lovely pink colour. When you slice in to them you get attractive rings, but for ages I didn’t really know this, as I only roasted them. Delicious, but when you have as many to eat your way through as I do, you need to explore other options…

Sliced Oca tubers

One of the nice things about Oca is that you can eat it raw. Thinly slice in a salad, you get the attractive pink rings, and a texture not disimilar to a radish, in that they are crunchy. The beauty of them raw like this is that they have a lovely light citrusy flavour. I am going to try a chilli-enhanced Thai-style dressing soon, but just a little walnut oil, some rocket, some lightly toasted walnuts and a sprinkling of blue cheese makes a delicious lunch.

oca-in-salad

Sorry about the photo, I’m not very good at taking foody photos, they always seem to wind up looking muddy and unattractive, but trust me when I say raw Oca is delicious…

I’ve also used it instead of potato in curries, which works wonderfully well, particularly in a Thai or Vietnames style of curry because of that citrus flavour. Apparently you can make a lovely mash with them too, which I must try. So, easy to grow, perennial, attractive weed-suppressing foliage, pretty flowers, and versatile. Definitely a winner for me.

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42 Comments


  1. I have never heard of Oca before – perennial too, I can see the benefit in growing these Janet. We are not particularly big veggie eaters here but my SIL is and this veg just might be right up her street. I must let her know about it.
    Angie recently posted Tree Following 2016 – Betula Crimson Frost


    1. Hi Angie, there’s lots of information online about oca, so if your SIL is interested she will easily find everything she needs.


  2. That sounds really interesting Janet. I may just have to grow some as you have whetted my appetite as well as my curiosity! What does it taste like ? I like the idea that you can eat it both raw and cooked
    Hoe hoe grow recently posted Planning for that cold, rainy day


    1. If you eat it raw, thinly sliced, it has a crunchy texture with a citrusy, slightly nutty flavour. Roasted it goes more nutty, less lemony, and quite soft, more like a sweet potato in texture but not at all like in taste. They seem to absorb flavours from a curry well, though not quite as perfectly as potato does. There is a recipe for a warm salad with anchovies and chilli that I am looking forward to trying…


  3. Hi Janet, I have never even heard about Oca, but it sounds like a delicious very versatile vegetable. It looks pretty attractive, too. Your salad looks great!
    Warm regards,
    Christina
    Christina recently posted January Roses


    1. Hi Christina, the salad was delicious!


  4. like your other commenters I too had not heard of oca Janet, it sounds quite interesting and useful, I once started looking at perennial veg but did not get very far, might try again, thanks for introducing this new (for me) veg, Frances


    1. Hi Frances, the only other perennial veg I have tried that grew easily for me was Jerusalem Artichoke, but TNG doesn’t like them, my digestive system complains vigorously when I eat them, and they take up an enormous amount of space. Oca is a much better behaved option, it does need a long growing season to mature, but I have found it very easy. Would you like me to send you some tubers to try? You should be able to pot them up and keep them somewhere sheltered and frost-free until Spring, when hopefully they would start growing away.


    1. I’ve not posted about it before Sue because I wanted to give it a couple of years, to see if I would still think it a good veg to try. For me the versatility coupled with the way the foliage suppresses all the weeds for the summer while looking really pretty is a winning combination. I could send you a couple of tubers to try if you wanted to give them a go?


  5. The idea of growing more perennial vegetables is most appealing Janet. Oca sounds and looks most delicious but can they have the same effects on the digestive system as Jerusalem artichokes? :) If not I might be tempted.


    1. Hi Anna, I am delighted to say that Oca is kind to the digestive tract – and to your friends, family and co-workers! Apparently they are high in oxalic acid, so not good if you suffer from gout or have compromised kidney function, but for the rest of us a healthy and nutritious alternative to potatoes with no pests or diseases to worry about.


  6. Sounds like a fascinating veggie, and since one is growing it for the roots, perhaps the birds wouldn’t destroy it (my problem at present)!
    Just want to add that I love your present layout for the blog :) Now here’s hoping it will like me and not send my comment to spam, as happens much too often…


    1. Hi Amy, I know what you mean about the birds, for me it is the blackbirds, I am planning to cover my broad beans and peas with the prunings from my rose bushes this year in the hope that more of the seeds get to germinate in peace!

      Delighted you like the blog layout, thank you. And you are apparently not spam…


  7. I have never heard of or seen Oca before. Thanks for the information. I love how it looks sliced, and it sounds delicious. Your sale looks yummy!
    debsgarden recently posted The Passionate Gardener


    1. Hello Deb, it is still comparatively unknown, though becoming rather trendy in permaculture and perennial gardening circles. I cam across it on the Real Seeds website and got curious. The salad was scrummy…


    1. Hi Beth, hope you enjoyed whatever seeing my salad made you go and eat!! Let me know how you get on if you decide to try growing Oca.


  8. Fascinating suggestion, my growing conditions are very similar to yours so I’m going to give this a try in my garden.


    1. Great! I hope you will share the results of your experiments Charlie. I would send you some tubers to start you off but I think US customs would take exception…


  9. I love Oca! I have never thought of using it in curries before. That’s something to look forward to later this year. Thank you!
    Sarah Shoesmith recently posted New Introductions


    1. Hi Sarah, yes, it works really well used like that! How do you like to use Oca? I am eager for more options to try, I have had such a bumper crop…


    1. I think you would really enjoy them Christina, and with your mild Autumns you should get good crops too. Do you think they would survive in the post to Italy? If so, I will gladly send you some tubers to experiment with.


  10. An interesting post, and good pictures. I like the flowers and foliage, and willing to see what they taste like so may well give them a try next year. xx
    Flighty recently posted The weather last week…


    1. I’m happy to send some tubers to you Flighty, if you fancy having a go in a small patch. Once you have them, if you like them, you just keep back a few each year – or don’t clear very thoroughly when you harvest!


    1. Hi Diana, must be a relative. The oca tubers are fairly small, the largest I get are 8cm long, and I eat plenty that are only half that size, but I’m not sure I would be offering to experiment with yours…


  11. I’ve also never heard of oca, so I was fascinated to read this. I always like to think of trying something new, so I will add this my list!
    Wendy recently posted Late Winter (at my place)


    1. Send me your address and I’ll send you a few tubers to try, it won’t give you a huge harvest, but will tell you whether you want to keep enough back to grow more the following year…


  12. Gosh – I think we will all be converted now. Sounds lovely – just need to track it down…


    1. Look no further! Send me your address and I will post some off to you, enough to get a taste hopefully and decide whether you want to grow more.


  13. This is new to me Janet, but does sound like a winner if it suppresses weeds too! Are the leaves also edible? Definitely worth looking into. Oh, and that photo does look delicious, despite your worries!
    Cathy recently posted In a Vase on Monday: Sugar and Lemons


    1. Hi Cathy, I’ve no idea about the leaves, I’ve not seen anything about them, will have to have a little nibble…


    1. They are strange looking, aren’t they!


  14. Fascinating, I have never heard of it, but it sounds delicious. I have Jerusalem artichokes all over my veg garden, threaded through my raspberry canes and soft fruit. What a brute it is.
    Chloris recently posted Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. February


    1. Jerusalem Artichokes should come with a hefty warning they are such a thug! Pretty flowers though…


  15. I have never heard of oca. It sure looks pretty in that salad. Here in Michigan I am just ordering from seed catalogs so appreciate the info. I will check into it.


    1. Hi Julie, hope you find some oca to try, it’s tasty and trouble free, a grand combination.

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