Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable in the same family as broccoli. When taken raw, it can cause upset stomach, cramping, and gas. To avoid this, many supplements use gelatinized maca powder; which means it’s been boiled to remove starch and make it easier to digest.
The same argument could be put forth as to why you should cook many vegetables.
Steaming kale may make it easier to eat, but in the process there are drawbacks to consider; degraded vitamins and phytonutrients.
In the case of this superfood, here are the pros and cons to consider with the gelatinized vs. raw.
Health benefits of gelatinized maca
1. It’s 100% vegan
Despite its name, gelatinized maca is vegan. There is no actual gelatin from cows, pigs, or other animals that has been added.
The name comes from the gelatinization process, where water is added to raw maca powder and its starch absorbs it, creating a gel-like substance. This is boiled, to breakdown the starch. The starch-filled water is then removed, leaving beyond the other nutrients.
2. Most of the starch is removed
By weight, raw maca root averages 60-75% carbohydrates. Half of that is in the form of starch (amylose and amylopectin). This means how much starch there is in maca is about a 33% concentration.
When the isolated starch content of maca is analyzed, it’s found to be 20% amylose and 80% amylopectin. (1)
Very little of this remains after gelatinization.
3. Less likely to give you gas
Can maca root cause gas and bloating?
Yes, and the high amount of amylose starch is largely responsible for that side effect. Due to its compact spiral structure, in order to break it down, fermentation in the large intestine takes place. That’s why raw maca powder gives you gas.
Since the gelatinized forms have removed almost all of the amylose starch, it’s easier to digest. Maca farts go away.
4. Nutrition facts are comparable to raw
Gelatinized maca nutrition facts are nearly identical to regular maca that’s raw. There are 20 calories per 1 teaspoon. With that comes 0g of fat, 4g of carbs, 1g of fiber, 2g of sugar, and 1g of protein.
The value for potassium is the only nutritional data point that differs between the two type for Navitas Organics brand. There’s only trivial vitamin and mineral content in raw maca to begin with, so the loss is insignificant.
5. More concentrated
Since the resistant starch has been removed, maca that’s gelatinized contains a higher concentration of digestible macronutrients and certain phytonutrients. Per teaspoon, this benefit is not obvious due to the rounding used on nutritional labels.
6. Closer to how Peruvians eat it
You wouldn’t eat a raw potato, would you?
Like potatoes, maca is a tuber vegetable which isn’t normally consumed raw. In Peru and South America, the root is ground into a flour which is used in baking and other forms of cooking. It’s used to make a sweet aromatic porridge called mazamorra. A fermented drink known as maca chichi is another common use. While the latter may not be heated, the fermentation does make is easier to digest.
The gelatinized kind is closer to how the Peruvians have been eating it for centuries, if not longer. They normally don’t eat it raw, as they’re well aware that adverse reactions can result from doing so.
Reasons raw maca is better
This plant species, Lepidium meyenii, shares something in common with other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and collard greens. They contain unique sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates.
When digested, these glucosinolates get broken down into sulforaphane (an isothiocyanate) and indole-3-carbinol and (an indole).
The National Cancer Institute, which is part of the US government, has this to say about these types of compounds:
“Indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in several organs in rats and mice, including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung, and stomach. Studies in animals and experiments with cells grown in the laboratory have identified several potential ways in which these compounds may help prevent cancer…”
The lab research they elude to is plentiful. For example, the below chart compares cancer growth in cultured lung cells when they are exposed to various vegetable extracts. (2)
You can see how the cruciferous, highlighted in yellow, were among the best.
To be clear, the suspected anti-cancer benefits of glucosinolates remain unproven in humans. Not much human clinical data exists. Maca root and other foods/supplements containing glucosinolates should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Gelatinized maca may contain lower amounts of glucosinolates. Boiling heat 100°C (212ºF) will begin degrading it within minutes and after 2 hours, only 5% of the glucosinolates would be expected to remain.
That’s based on testing using rapeseed meal, which is from another cruciferous plant. (3)
A controlled study to monitor the degradation rate in maca before, during, and after gelatinization has not been published. How much glucosinolates there are in raw vs. gelatinized is unknown.
Australian and Polish scientists report potential good news; boiling dried maca after soaking in water, as native Peruvians do, might increase bioavailability of the glucosinolates. They report it’s “as effective as laboratory methods” for extracting the compounds from the root. (4)
While gelatinization decreases total content, it might make what’s left easier for the body to absorb. This is by separating it from the resistant starches.
Among the white/yellow, red, and black maca root tested, it was reported that red and black have significantly higher amounts of glucosinolates; nearly 10x more than white or yellow maca.
In addition to cancer research, maca benefits may include increased energy, libido, fertility (particularly with men’s sperm count and quality), menopause relief in women, cognitive function, sports/bodybuilding performance, and prostate health. The glucosinolates are believed to play a role in many of these.
Aside from glucosinolates, there may be other bioactive phytonutrients that are higher in raw maca powder versus the gelatinized supplements. Since scientists are only beginning to understand the compounds in the plant, it’s premature to conclude whether the most important remain in adequate quantity after gelatinization.
Given that gastrointestinal side effects are almost guaranteed with high consumption of the raw root, those taking maca daily or frequently should probably use a gelatinized powder or capsules filled with it.
Even though glucosinolates and other phytonutrients may be lower versus raw, the advantage is that you can eat more of the gelatinized because it’s easier on digestion. That may allow you to make up for the lower amounts, since you won’t have to eat or take it sparingly, like the raw requires.
What is the best gelatinized maca?
Since most manufacturers are vague or silent about their manufacturing process, it’s difficult to know which brands use the least destructive methods for making it.
Major brands, as well as smaller brands which source from the same major suppliers, are likely to have more R&D behind their gelatinized maca. In theory, these are probably the best choices. Their gelatinization is likely to be a calculated process, rather than primitive boiling and drying which may work, but could entail more processing than what’s needed.
Gaia Herbs offers offers vegan capsules in a bottle. There’s a quantity of 60, with dosage instructions listing one capsules taken twice daily between meals.
Maca Marvel sells vegan capsules without magnesium stearate or other fillers, using a tri-color blend of yellow, black, and red maca. They’re made in the USA using maca grown in the Andes Mountains of Peru. You can get them on Amazon.
Between red and black maca powder, the red is best. This is because research has found a 20-fold reduction in glucosinolate levels when black maca powder is dried. With red maca, it’s only a 4.5-fold reduction. (4)
After drying, it’s boiled or baked to make it gelatinized. Both colors would be expected to endure similar degradation during that time. Since red has more beforehand, one can hypothesis that it probably has more after, too.
For 100% pure organic red maca root powder that’s gelatinized, the brand Maca Team is an excellent choice. You can buy it in a 1 lb package on Amazon that’s a good value.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.