We get asked a lot about raw maca, so we thought it would be a good idea to answer all the questions in one spot.
For the people of Junin in Peru, maca has been a food and remedy for over 2000 years.
If you ask any Incan descendants how to prepare maca, they all answer the same: “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?
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 tea or porridge.
Stories say that the Inca would boil and consume up to 200 grams 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. Recently, maca has been ground into powders (fresh and dried) to increase surface area and allow easier inclusion into various meals. It is a favorite additive to Inca Tea (boiled cinnamon, cloves, dried fruit, and maca in water), one of the most popular ways to drink maca in Junin. Those from the region who want to eat their maca straight in milk use pre-baked or heat-activated maca powder.
Incan tea is perfect on a cold, rainy April morning.
What is Gelatinzed Maca?
One of the biggest misunderstandings regarding maca is that gelatinized maca is often confused with gelatin due to the similar spellings of the words. Gelatinized maca does not contain gelatin or have any association with gelatin. Gelatinizing is a name for heating a starchy product to reduce starch content, making it more viscous. Don’t worry; gelatinized maca is 100% vegan. Gelatinized maca is simply raw maca that has been put through a short (<10 sec) high-pressure steam to sanitize, kill off things like bacteria and mold, and 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 this prevents confusion for vegans and vegetarians who are put off by the word gelatinized.
Gelatinzed Vs Raw Maca
Raw maca is like a sponge for mold; 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 serious long-term negative health effects 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 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 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.
Doesn't cooking maca destroy Nutrients?
It doesn’t. This is one of the most common misconceptions about maca and a lack of understanding of maca biochemistry and its mode of action. Almost all clinical studies demonstrating the positive health benefits of maca have been performed with maca prepared traditionally (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 heating is necessary for producing various beneficial 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, an aqueous extract of maca is only effective after boiling pulverized maca hypocotyls in water….The boiling process seems to increase active metabolites.”
Why maca should be cooked
To understand this, you must understand the reason we consume maca. Maca is an incredible remedy. It helps to keep us healthy and our system in balance. The main bioactive inside maca that gives it these amazing benefits are unique to this plant and are called macamides. There are 17 known macamides, each of which 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 the breakdown of the heat-sensitive glucosinolates (1) in the fresh maca bulb (Scheme 1). During the 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). It is now known that the coupling of fatty acids with the benzylamine intermediate (7) is a thermodynamic process (i.e., it requires heat).
"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.”
To sum it all up
Raw maca accumulates mold that produces toxic aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are cancer-causing molecules that attack our gut biome and can remain in the raw maca powder unless cooked. Eating raw maca is risky and can cause serious harm to your health and upset your gut biome. 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 Maca's benefits are heat activated. So if you are eating raw maca, you may not get the desired health benefits.
Our analysis demonstrated that a commercially available sample of raw maca in New Zealand had 2x higher bacterial concentrations and 8x higher mold concentrations than our activated (pre-cooked) sample. Raw maca is a health risk and 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?
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.
If you want to learn more about Maca, click the below button to head over to our Ethical Maca Center!