Is It Safe To Eat Raw Maca?
If you’ve done some research into the potential benefits of adding maca root to your diet, you’ve likely come across articles arguing something like, “no one should ever eat raw maca” or “raw maca is dangerous.” But, is that really true? Is all raw maca actually unsafe for anyone to eat? In this article we’ll have a closer look at this topic and answer those questions based on our experience in working with high-quality Peruvian grown maca for over 2 decades.
What Does “Raw Maca” Mean?
Maca is a unique root vegetable that grows natively in the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia, where it has been used for 1000s of years as both a food and natural medicine. Over the past several decades it has become increasingly popular outside of the Andes. Because of the many benefits of maca powder, it can now be found in health food and natural stores throughout much of the world.
Most of us won’t personally ever see or taste a fresh raw maca root unless we travel to the high-altitude fields where maca is grown. But to get a sense of what they are like, you can imagine pulling a radish or turnip from the ground. The maca plant itself has a small leafy top which nourishes the root below. When a maca root is pulled from the ground, it is truly in its most “raw” or uncooked form. If you cut it open and tried to eat it, you’d notice that it has a spicy, bitter and starchy taste akin to horseradish (interestingly maca, like horseradish, is in the mustard family). No one regularly eats maca in this fresh raw form. Instead the raw maca products that we consume are processed in a couple of important ways before they are made commercially available.
The first process maca roots undergo after harvest is drying. Drying is accomplished in one of two ways. The traditional method of drying maca is to spread the fresh roots out on large tarps in the high mountain sun. The roots are turned regularly and covered at night to help speed the process. They spend anywhere from 2-4 weeks in the sun and the result is a very dry root that contains less than 4% moisture content. The second method of drying maca is more modern. Freshly harvested maca roots are transported to large dehydrators where they are dried at low temperatures (below 115 F / 46 C) until the moisture content is reduced to less than 4%. This process is much quicker and preserves some more of maca’s nutrients, including glucosinolates, at higher levels. For that reason, roots that undergo this drying process are called “premium” quality. Learn more about premium vs. sundried maca.
With either drying process, the result is a very dry, rock hard maca root. Even though the process involves only low temperatures, it does change the maca roots from their initial form. This is similar to how a raisin is different from a grape or a prune is different from a plum. In maca’s case, drying changes the taste dramatically. If you were to rehydrate a dried maca root and then eat it you would notice that the taste is sweeter and that much, if not all, of the spiciness is gone. That is due to chemical reactions during the drying process.
In summary, when we are talking about “raw maca” we are not talking about fresh maca roots, but rather maca roots that have been sundried or low temperature dried before being processed for final consumption. That’s an important distinction since the drying process does change some of the chemical and nutritive composition of the root.
What Are The Safety Concerns With Eating Raw Maca?
Overall, maca is regarded as a safe food to eat. There are no known contraindications to adding it to your diet. There are, however, 2 general concerns regarding specifically the consumption of raw maca.
One: Raw maca contains starch which makes digestion more difficult for some people – Similar to a potato, raw maca contains starch. Starch is difficult to digest for some people and can cause temporary upset stomach symptoms. This is a result of undigested carbohydrates which can ferment in the digestive tract and cause discomfort. If this occurs to you when you eat raw maca powder or raw maca capsules, simply discontinue use and try one of the suggestions we list below in the “alternatives to raw maca” section of this article. Overall, this is not really a safety concern as any digestive discomfort will dissipate once you stop consuming a raw maca product. Also, it’s important to know that raw maca only affects about 10% of people in this way. It may not affect your digestion at all.
Two: Can raw maca can mold and accumulate toxins, especially aflatoxins? - The second concern around the safety of raw maca is mold content. The argument is that raw maca roots can easily mold during storage and if they are not cooked this mold will be in the final product. While this is possible if maca is not handled carefully, it is also avoidable. Here is how:
- The ideal way to store dried maca roots is in a low humidity environment. Some companies store them at sea level or at other relatively high humidity locations. At The Maca Team we make sure our roots are stored in the high Andes until just days before processing.
- In terms of processing raw maca roots, it is imperative that the roots are cleansed before being ground into powder. We use an organic highly potent citrus solution that removes leftover soil, bacteria and molds from the roots. Then, before powdering, the roots are passed through a UV light for further sterilization.
- Once our maca is processed into a powder, it must pass rigorous tests for metals, pesticides, molds and other pathogens at 4 different labs before a Certificate of Analyis (COA) is issued. The general standard is that molds and yeasts must be below 1000 cfu/g. We use a stricter measure at less than 250 cfu/g.
- Finally, once maca powder or capsules makes it this far, it’s important that the product is stored in high quality packaging that includes a vapor barrier.
- If raw maca products are handled in this way, we are confident that they are safe from any dangerous levels of mold. As a company with our entire focus on maca we are able to follow through on this process to provide the safest, cleanest and most potent product possible.
- We can’t say the same of all other producers and sellers of raw maca products. Therefore, it is wise to use caution if you suspect any raw maca product of being lower quality, having poor packaging or having been exposed to humidity during storage.
If, after reading this, you’d rather consume maca in a cooked form there are several alternatives. At The Maca Team you can:
- Consume any of our gelatinized maca powders or capsules – we offer, black, red, yellow and tri-color in both sundried and premium process options
- We also offer gelatinized maca root chips if you’d like to get as close to whole maca roots as possible
- Additionally, we have liquid maca extracts, which are an easy way to get the nutrition of maca root into the body quickly
- Finally, if you have raw maca powder and want to cook it yourself you can certainly add it to any of a number of maca recipes
Is It Safe To Eat Raw Maca?
In conclusion, based on our experience, the assertions that “no one should ever eat raw maca” and “raw maca is dangerous” are a bit hyperbolic. When you are sure that the maca you use is pure, has been stored and processed carefully and has been packaged to eliminate exposure to moisture there is little to no danger in consuming raw maca powder or capsules. Additionally, if you have generally strong starch digestion, raw maca won’t affect your digestive system in any negative way.
We’ve been offering both raw and gelatinized maca for nearly 20 years and both have gotten rave reviews. In addition, several of us at The Maca Team have enjoyed raw maca for years and years with no negative issues. Plus there are some advantages to taking raw maca vs. gelatinized maca and (vice versa).
In summary whether you take gelatinized or raw maca, as long as you are getting a pure, high-quality Peruvian grown product, we’re confident that positive and life enhancing results will follow.
Enjoy the day!