Why you shouldn’t eat raw maca
For the people of Junin in Peru, maca has been used as a medicinal remedy to prevent and treat health conditions for over 2000 years. Traditionally it is used for its ability to balance hormones, mental health, reduce stress and adrenal fatigue as well as promoting vitality, focus, concentration, fertility, and sexual function. If you ask any of the Incan descendants how to prepare maca they all answer the same way “It must be cooked or boiled to extract the medicine”. So why in our western culture are we suddenly changing 2000 years of tradition and deciding to consume raw maca powder?
How is maca traditionally consumed?
Used for centuries in Peru the health benefits of maca root are well documented and include everything from energy, vitality, stamina, endurance to hormonal balance, sexual function and mental health. Maca is a root vegetable that is 70% carbohydrate, with a high starch content (similar to a potato). As such, it has been traditionally cooked in ways similar to that of potatoes or starchy foods. The whole fresh bulb or dried bulb is either boiled in a soup or grated into fine pieces and boiled as a tea or porridge.
Stories say that the Inca would boil and consume up to 200g of maca per day via these traditional methods, with the local people claiming that sites like Machu Picchu were built with the power of maca. In more recent times maca has been ground into powders (fresh and dried) to increase surface area and allow easier inclusion into various meals. The ground powder is a favourite additive to Inca Tea (boiled cinnamon, cloves, dried fruit and maca in water), one of the most popular way to drink maca in Junin. For those from the region who want to eat their maca straight in milk they use pre-baked or heat-activated maca powder.
What is gelatinized maca (activated maca)
This is the biggest misunderstanding when it comes to maca, gelatinized maca is often confused with gelatin due to the similar spellings of the words. Gelatinized maca does not contain gelatin or ave any association to gelatin, gelatinizing is actually just a name for the process of heating a starchy product to reduce starch content, making it more viscous. Don’t worry gelatinized maca is 100% vegan and vegetarian friendly. Gelatinized maca is simply raw maca that has been put through a short (<10 sec) high pressure steam to sanitise, kill nasties like bacteria and mould and also make it far better for your gut and digestion. More recently gelatinized maca has been called “activated maca” as it has been heat-activated and it prevents confusion for vegans and vegetarians who are scared by the word gelatinized.
Gelatinized maca vs Raw Maca
Raw maca is like a sponge for mold and the longer it sits in humid conditions the more mold it attracts. The problem with the type of mold that loves maca is that it produces highly toxic chemicals called aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and can have a serious long-term negative health effect on your body and gut bacteria, even in tiny doses. The only way to kill this mold and protect it from the formation of toxins is by cooking maca to sanitize it, as the Inca have done for centuries. The safest form of maca to have is commercially called gelatinized maca or activated maca, which has gone through high-pressure steam to kill the mold and sanitize it. In addition, gelatinized maca has a more sweet, caramel flavor and tastes much better than earthy raw maca. So when it comes to gelatinized maca vs raw maca, gelatinized maca has some clear benefits.
Mold growing on raw maca produces cancer causing aflatoxins, which is why it must be cooked
But doesn’t cooking maca destroy the nutrients?
Actually no it doesn’t, this is the most common mis-conception about maca and a lack of understanding of maca biochemistry and it’s medicinal mode of action. Almost all clinical studies demonstrating positive health benefits of maca have been performed with maca prepared in it’s traditional manner (boiling or heating in water) or with heat activated or extracted maca. From this it is evident that the active medicinal components are not denatured with heat and new studies suggest that the heating is actually necessary for production of the various health enhancing metabolites. Dr Gustavo F. Gonzales who heads 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."
Most people in our western culture will eat maca powder in a raw smoothie or in raw food.
In Junin, Peru maca has traditionally been cooked or heated for the medicinal benefits.
Why maca should be cooked
To understand this you must understand the reason we consume maca. Maca is a medicine, it is a medicine for the prevention of disease and for treatment to bring balance to our endocrine system. The main bioactive inside maca that gives this physiological response is unique to this plant and is called macamides. There are 17 known macamides and each of them works directly with your endocannabinoid and endocrine system to produce the positive health benefits of maca for your body.
"The science has shown that the bioactive macamides in maca are heat activated molecules."
Their biosynthesis occurs from breakdown of the heat sensitive glucosinolates (1) in the fresh maca bulb (Scheme 1). During initial drying of maca post-harvest there is hydrolytic processing of lipids and glucosinolates and a subsequent release of significant amounts of free unsaturated fatty acids (9, 10) and a key biochemical called benzylamine (7). Both of these compounds are precursors of, and whose accumulation correlates well with, the synthesis of bioactive macamides (11, 12, 13). What is now known is that the coupling of fatty acids with the benzylamine intermediate 7, is a thermodynamic process (ie. it requires heat).
Scheme 1. Showing the breakdown of heat sensitive glucosinolates to the formation of bioactive macamides.
"So it seems the Inca were right and the evidence now suggests that heating maca makes it more potent and bioactive. It also demonstrates that when it comes to traditional medicines it pays to ask the people with 2000 years of experience how to prepare it."
What is wrong with eating raw maca vs gelatinized maca (activated maca)?
- Raw maca accumulates mold that produces toxic aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are cancer-causing molecules that attack our gut biome and can remain in the raw powder of maca unless it is cooked. Eating raw maca is risky and can cause serious harm to your health and upset your gut biome (Read about examples of this here). In essence, it can do more harm than good.
- Raw maca root 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.
- Maca has always been traditionally cooked or heated and studies show that the health benefits of maca powder are not diminished by these processes, if anything they are enhanced. The active components responsible for most of the medicinal benefits of Maca (FAAH inhibitors, FFA’s, and other metabolites) are heat-activated. So if you are eating raw maca you may not be getting the health benefits you desire.
- Our analysis demonstrated that a commercially available sample of raw maca in New Zealand had 2x higher bacterial concentrations and 8x higher mold concentrations compared to our activated (pre-cooked) sample. Raw maca is a health risk that does not need to be taken.
- The texture and flavor of activated (pre-cooked) maca powder are sweeter, caramel, and palatable. Raw maca has a more tart taste and often forms grainy starch sediments in solution when it's not cooked, creating an unpleasant texture and flavor. If you want maca for your smoothies activated maca has it all and a much nicer taste.
So what is the solution – gelatinized maca vs raw maca?
Simply put it is best to buy activated maca or gelatinized maca as it is safe, potent and tastes better. It does not need cooking but can be cooked more if required. This follows the tradition and the science and the way it has been done for 2000 years – cooked.
(NB. Gelatinized maca does not contain gelatin, gelatinizing is the process of heating to remove starch – 100% vegan friendly)
We only sell activated maca (pre-cooked) as it is higher in potency, easy on the stomach, ready to eat, more versatile and tastes much better. You can put it straight in a smoothie or cook it.