“What is gelatinized maca powder, and how does it compare to other kinds of maca?” This is one of the most common questions we receive, and we’re happy to answer it in full here.
Maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng, is the world’s highest-growing agricultural plant, thriving at elevations above four thousand meters (fourteen thousand feet) in the Peruvian Andes. It is typically grown as a biennial (planted one year and harvested the next), but left to its own devices (and depending on the climate, since maca cannot grow in warm climates), it is likely a perennial plant—that is, returning every year.
The maca plant is part of the Brassicaceae family, so it’s botanically related to broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower (among many other well-loved vegetables). The leaves have a slightly spicy flavor, and the root is a turnip-like tuber that tastes (depending on whom you ask) creamy with hints of butterscotch, faintly nutty, or a touch bitter. However, while all parts of the maca plant are edible, it’s the root that is the superfood. And just how super is this food? Read on!
Andean natives have been growing, preparing, and eating maca for thousands of years, and it might not be an overstatement to say that maca’s nutritional density and energy-enhancing properties have made life possible in the extreme elevations and challenging weather of the Andes mountains. Maca is a truly functional food in that it supports endurance and adaptability. Incan warriors used to consume maca before battle, and Peruvian children are fed maca porridge several times a week to support brain growth and build muscle.
While people from the area where maca grows can consume up to fifty grams of maca daily, we recommend a much smaller daily intake.
MACA’S HEALTH BENEFITS
Maca is nutritionally fairly dense, with a nutrient profile (in its raw, tuberous form) similar to that of a potato, the only other crop that grows easily at such a high altitude. However, in the United States, we rarely find the whole roots (either fresh or dried) because there is a ban on the export of whole maca root from Peru. Instead, maca is widely available in several forms: chips (small bits of dried root), powder, liquid extract, and dietary supplements.
Drying the roots naturally concentrates the various vitamins, minerals, starches, fatty acids, flavonoids, phytonutrients, and essential amino acids found in organic maca. Maca is an adaptogen—a plant that supports our ability to adapt to adverse circumstances, absorb stress, and thrive. It offers an energy boost so noticeable that many people have traded their morning coffee for morning maca, enjoying alertness without jitters or increased anxiety.
The high amino acid content of maca plants (which includes arginine, aspartic acid, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, phenylalanine, serine, threonine, tyrosine, and valine) is likely responsible for many of the profound health benefits offered by our organic maca powders. These essential amino acids are responsible for several crucial human biological processes, including the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and noradrenaline, both of which support not only mood stability but also sexual health.
Maca roots come in a wide range of colors, though similar colors tend to be grouped under the general descriptions of yellow maca, red maca, and black maca. The different color families are associated with slightly different health benefits, but all maca, regardless of color, is thought to protect against oxidative stress (due to its high levels of antioxidants), balance hormone levels, increase energy, support healthy neural functioning, and boost libido in both men and women.
Yellow maca is the most commonly grown, accounting for about 60 percent of the yearly harvest. Most maca powder generally available is produced from yellow maca roots. Maca dietary supplements—capsules and tinctures—are typically made from yellow maca powder, although we offer capsules (in addition to our powders and chips) made from all three colors of maca.
Red maca accounts for a quarter of the region’s maca production. Red maca is supposed to be especially good at boosting energy, easing menopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes), protecting bone density, and supporting prostate health.
Black maca forms only about 15 percent of exported maca. Studies have shown that it can improve male fertility, support memory, and increase stamina. It maybe also improve cognitive function, elevate energy levels, and promote bone health.
HOW MACA IS PROCESSED
Maca roots are processed for consumption in a few different ways. Understanding the different extrusion processes helps explain how gelatinized maca is different.
- Traditional Process: Traditionally, maca roots are harvested from May through July and then left in the sun to dry for ten to forty days. Once they are dry, maca roots can be safely stored for up to two years. The dried roots are then boiled in water or milk until they are soft before being mashed into a porridge called mazamorra. They are also sometimes made into a fermented drink called maca chicha (a traditional drink that can be either fermented or nonfermented).
- Raw Maca Powder Process: Since the 1960s, raw maca powder has been made for the export market. In this process, maca roots are harvested and dried in the sun or, more recently, in dehydrators. Then they are cleaned and ground into a very fine powder. During this process, the roots are never heated above 105ºF (40ºC), thereby preserving the maximum amount of nutrients. The resulting raw maca powder can then be mixed into drinks like smoothies, protein shakes, and fruit and vegetable juices; sprinkled onto cereal or oatmeal; mixed into homemade energy bars; and added to a number of other foods. See our maca recipes page for inspiration.
- Gelatinized Maca Powder Process: Gelatinized maca powder has been produced since the 1990s. The dried roots are first boiled and then pressurized in order to remove all starch content. The boiling process does alter some nutrients, including enzymes and vitamin C, but it makes the powder easier to digest (due to the reduction of starch). The powder is then mixed into drinks or other foods for consumption. It’s important to note that nothing is added to maca during the process of gelatinization.
The main difference between raw maca powder and gelatinized maca powder, then, is that the latter has been cooked and has had the starch removed. This can be helpful for a variety of reasons, which we enumerate below.
STARCH AND YOUR DIGESTION
The reason some people have a hard time digesting raw maca is because of the quantity and type of starches in the tuber. By weight, raw maca root is approximately 70 percent carbohydrate, and half of that is starch, specifically amylose and amylopectin. Some people find that these difficult-to-digest starches cause gas, bloating, and discomfort. After gelatinization, very little starch remains.
Those who have trouble digesting raw maca in capsule form or as a powder mixed into drinks like smoothies might find it easier to consume when it’s sprinkled onto cereal or mixed into energy bars. That’s because starch digestion begins in the mouth: saliva contains amylase, an enzyme that breaks down starches such as amylose and amylopectin. So if you’d like to stick with raw maca but are finding it hard to digest, try shaking up the ways in which you enjoy maca, and see whether that resolves things.
WHAT IS GELATINIZED MACA POWDER GOOD FOR?
Gelatinized maca, like raw maca, is associated with a wide variety of health benefits that our customers have shared in product reviews and in testimonials, some of which we’ve summarized above.
Here are some of the many advantages of gelatinized maca.
- Easy digestion: Because the starch is removed, gelatinized maca works well for anyone with a sensitive stomach or who has trouble digesting starches.
- More concentrated nutrients: The lack of starch means that gram for gram, gelatinized maca is more concentrated than raw maca powders. It takes four kilograms of fresh roots to make one kilogram of gelatinized maca powder.
- Some activated nutrients: Heating the maca roots amplifies some nutrients, including metabolites and minerals.
There are a few disadvantages to gelatinized maca.
- Loss of enzymes: High heat destroys all enzymes and vitamin C content.
- Loss of glucosinolates: High heat alters these nutrients, which are theorized to have anticancer properties.
IS GELATINIZED MACA RIGHT FOR YOU?
First, let’s clear up something very important and potentially confusing! Gelatinized maca does not contain gelatin! It’s an entirely vegan product. Gelatinization describes the heat-based extrusion process that turns raw maca into what is essentially a predigested form of the root—gelatinized maca.
In all our years of enjoying and distributing our organic maca powders and chips, we’ve learned that gelatinized maca works best for those with sensitive stomachs or for anyone who has trouble digesting starches. If you fall into either category, we recommend that you go with gelatinized maca instead of raw maca.
There are a few conditions that might not be helped by maca dietary supplements, and if any of these describe you, reach out and discuss your needs with us or consult a natural practitioner for dosage advice. While maca does not contain any hormone-like compounds, it has been shown to boost estrogen—which is why it’s so helpful for women going through menopause. Maca’s estrogen-enhancing mechanism is not fully understood, but its proven benefits in reducing hot flashes and alleviating menopause-related depression suggest that it does have an effect on estrogen levels. It should therefore be used with caution by those with estrogen-feeding cancers or endometriosis.
Another group of people who should monitor their maca dosage are those with thyroid issues. Maca contains goitrogens, which are compounds that affect thyroid functioning. This effect can be positive because the thyroid is part of the HPT (hypothalamus–pituitary–thyroid) axis, which regulates hormone production, and several studies have shown maca to have a beneficial effect on hormone regulation. If you do have thyroid issues, monitor your reaction to maca carefully, and increase your dosage slowly to be sure that you’re enjoying only the benefits organic maca offers.
DOES GELATINIZED MACA POWDER GET BETTER RESULTS THAN RAW MACA POWDERS?
Both raw and gelatinized maca powders have gotten good results in several studies. On a more anecdotal level, we receive positive feedback from our customers about both types of maca. Our overall experience is that raw maca powders work slightly better than gelatinized ones. However, if you cannot comfortably digest raw maca, you should not feel as if gelatinized maca powder is somehow second best. In fact, the gelatinized version is actually closer to the traditional preparations of organic maca made by locals. After all, you would not eat a raw turnip (even though you certainly could do so).
In fact, the most important variable affecting the potency of the maca you consume is its overall quality. The soil in which it was grown, the climate of the growing season, when it was harvested, how quickly it was dried, how it was processed, and how fresh it is when it gets to you are all more important, in our opinion, than whether the maca is gelatinized or raw.
WHICH GELATINIZED MACA POWDER TO CHOOSE
The certified-organic gelatinized maca powders we sell come to us in small batches from our farming cooperative in Peru. They are encased in air- and light-resistant packaging and arrive in our customers’ hands within three to four months of being produced. This makes them the freshest on the market.
All of our maca is 100 percent GMO-free, fair trade, and organic. It is ethically sourced from Peru, where it grows naturally. In fact, maca is so important to the Peruvian economy and so deeply interwoven into centuries of history and culture in the Andes mountains that it has been declared a heritage food. This is why it’s so important to know the source of your maca. In recent years, the growing popularity of maca has meant that other countries—China in particular—are trying to get in on the action. However, the quality of the maca that comes out of China is inconsistent at best. Only maca grown in the Peruvian Andes can be considered true maca.
In addition, not all maca grown even in Peru is considered truly organic. Some Peruvian ginseng (that is, maca) farmers can and do use chemical fertilizers and herbicides. We work only with truly organic farmers to ensure that the organic maca powder and chips we sell meet all federal standards for organic certification. In addition, we take our responsibility to support the local economy and ecosystem very seriously, which is why our products are fair-trade certified. Our farmers are paid at or above market value, and their working conditions are carefully monitored. We also work with our farmers to maintain soil health, since maca is a nutrient-hungry plant.
We sell several types of organic gelatinized maca powder, including capsules and chips in both sun-dried and premium versions and in all three main colors, as well as a mixture of all three—yellow, red, and black maca.
If you have any further questions, please let us know. We are always happy to talk maca!
Enjoy the day!