Eating raw maca is very risky for you and your gut biome and can cause long-term health problems. People who live in Junin, Peru, have been taking advantage of maca’s medicinal purposes to prevent and treat health conditions for over 2000 years. They also would tell you that the way you should consume maca is cooked or boiled, that way you extract the medicine from it and protect your gut. So why is it that some people are not taking advantage of this knowledge? Why aren’t we all consuming pre-cooked or 'activated' maca powder? And what are the risks of not following their advice?
What is the traditional way to take Maca in Peru?
Maca has been consumed for centuries in Peru, mostly because of all the health benefits it has; like energy, vitality, stamina, endurance to hormonal balance, sexual function, and mental health. But let us start by knowing more about maca and its traditional uses. It is a root vegetable with a high starch content, similar to a potato, it is 70% carbohydrate. And just like a potato or other starchy foods, it has been traditionally cooked as one. Boiled in a soup or grated into fine pieces and boiled as a tea or porridge, using the fresh or dried root.
According to tradition, the Incas used to drink up to 200g of boiled maca root per day, and that is how sites like Machu Picchu were built, with the extra energy from maca. It is an excellent additive to Inca Tea, which is boiled with cinnamon, cloves, and dried fruit; that is how people in Junin drink maca. As we cannot export the roots out of Peru we need to find the safest way to consume maca in a powdered or fragmented form for export. Nowadays we can find maca powder, made by grounding fresh or dried maca, or maca nibs made by shredding cooked and dried maca roots, this makes it easier for people to include it in meals or beverages. But not all maca is equal and safe, it is important to not eat it raw in any form. For those wanting safe maca it is best to eat gelatinized or activated maca that has been pre-cooked.
What is activated or gelatinized maca?
No, it is not gelatin. Although they sound alike, gelatinized maca does not include nor have any association with gelatin; gelatinizing is a process to reduce the starch content in a starchy food by heating it and making it more viscous. Hence gelatinized maca is 100% vegan and vegetarian friendly, it is a process that starts with putting raw maca through a short (<10sec) high pressure steam, to sanitise and kill bacteria or mould, making it better for your gut and digestion. Recently gelatinized maca has been called “activated maca” since it has been heat-activated and in order to stop confusion for vegans or vegetarians. Gelatinized maca is the safest way to eat maca and follows the traditions of the Inca people to cook maca before eating it.
Why eat gelatinized maca vs raw maca powder?
The safest form of maca is the gelatinized or activated maca, because it has gone through a process of high-pressure steam to sanitise it and kill mould. The mould that raw maca attracts, is an extremely dangerous one that produces highly toxic chemicals called aflatoxins, which are carcinogenic (causes cancer) and can have a serious long-term negative health effect on your body and gut bacteria, even in small doses. That’s why is so important to consume gelatinized or activated maca, it also has a sweeter, caramel-like flavour, and tastes much better than raw maca. You can cook raw maca powder, but that still does not guarantee safety as many aflatoxins are not destroyed by heat so cooking it during processing through gelatinization is the safest way to ensure it is sanitised and no risk at source. Therefore, gelatinized maca powder has more health benefits and much less risk than raw maca powder.
Mould on raw maca produces toxic chemicals, it is safest to consume gelatinized maca.
If we cook maca, does it lose its nutrients?
No, it does not. Actually, all clinical studies were performed with gelatinized or activated maca, prepared traditionally, and still they were able to demonstrate the health benefits of maca. So clearly maca does not lose its medicinal components, and it might also suggest that heat enhances maca’s metabolites. Dr Gustavo F. Gonzales, head of the Department of Biological and Physiological Sciences and High-Altitude Research at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia stated in his comprehensive biochemical review of maca:
"The process of preparation of maca is important to obtain adequate biological effects. Traditionally maca is boiled or extracted in alcohol before it is consumed. In experimental studies, aqueous extract of maca is only effective after boiling pulverized maca hypocotyls in water….The boiling process seems to increase active metabolites."
We can eat maca powder mixed within a raw smoothie or raw food as long as it is pre-cooked or gelatinized first.
Maca prepared the traditional way in Junin, Peru, boiled into a tea to benefit from its virtues and properties.
What happens when we cook maca?
We consume maca because it is a medicine that prevents disease and balances our endocrine system. Maca has unique components called macamides which are the main bioactive molecules inside maca. There are 19 known macamides and each of them work either directly or indirectly on our endocannabinoid and endocrine system. Macamides are responsible for many of the important health benefits of maca.
"According to science, bioactive macamides in maca are heat activated molecules."
Here's what we currently know about the chemistry of maca and macamides: The formation of a macamide happens post-harvest as the maca is traditionally sun-dried from breakdown of the heat sensitive glucosinolates (1) in the fresh maca bulb (Scheme 1). During initial drying there is release of lipids (9) and a key biochemical called benzylamine (7) that forms from the broken down glucosinolates. These precursors the combine to form different bioactive macamides (12). This combination occurs from dehydration of the root during drying and is a heat-activated process. So heating maca can actually enhance this biochemical process and cooking the root therefore makes sense biochemically.
Scheme 1. Chemical process starting with the breakdown of heat sensitive glucosinolates, until the formation of bioactive macamides’ occurs with heat.
"Evidence confirms what the Inca knew all along, maca is a traditional medicine, and that sun drying and cooking activates the health benefits of maca."
Summary - Why you should never eat raw maca
- When raw maca sits in humid conditions, it collects mould that produces highly toxic chemicals called aflatoxins, which cause cancer. These toxins can remain in raw maca powder even after cooking it, hence, is important to cook it during processing to kill the mould before it infests the powder with aflatoxins, to avoid serious harm to your health or upsetting your gut biome.
- Raw maca contains high levels of starch and when consumed this way, it may cause problems with our digestion, as it is hard to digest, it can cause symptoms like distention, gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort.
- The health benefits of maca powder seem to be enhanced by heat, this is not only what an ancient civilization and its descendants believe, it is also proven by science. So better consume it the traditional way if you want to take advantage of all the benefits cooked maca powder offers.
- We have analysed commercially available samples of raw maca and found out that bacterial concentrations are 2x higher and mould concentrations are 8x higher than our activated maca. You do not want to play those odds?
- Gelatinized or activated maca has a sweeter, caramel-like flavour and is more palatable compared to raw maca, which has a tarter taste and often has grainy starch sediments in solution when it is not cook. Gelatinized maca is perfect for blending with your favourite smoothie and 100% safe for you and your gut.
Is gelatinized maca (activated maca) your best option?
Absolutely! It tastes better, blends better with other foods, does not need cooking and above all, it is safe for you and your health. It is 100% vegan friendly, gelatinized maca does not contain gelatin. Gelatinizing is a heating process for removing starch from food. We only sell activated maca, it tastes better, does not need cooking, and blends perfectly with your favourite smoothie!