Since very few foods contain it, lycopene is by far the most compelling phytonutrient found in tomatoes.
When they’re cooked, the lycopene actually becomes about 300% more bioavailable in the human body. (1)
Of course, tomatoes are an exception, not the norm.
With most fruits, vegetables, and herbs, you’re usually better off eating or drinking them in their raw state. That’s because many phytonutrients, along with some vitamins like C, are easily destroyed by heat.
However when it comes to the Peruvian superfood Lepidium meyenii (maca), eating it raw isn’t good for you. Especially in high amounts.
Is raw maca powder bad for you?
Like potatoes and cassava, maca is a root vegetable. In the Peruvian Andes where it natively grows, locals traditionally prepare it as a warm beverage.
First they allow the roots to dry naturally under the sun. Next, they grind them into a powder. This results in “gelatinization” of the hard-to-digest fibers. Finally, they boil the powder to create a watery mashed-potato like substance called mazamorra. Traditionally, this thick maca juice or tea is the most frequent form it’s eaten.
Other traditional Peruvian Maca recipes include using the flour in baking to create a bread which somewhat resembles pancakes. Fermenting maca to make a drink called chichi is another common use.
Maca can be eaten raw but the reason it’s bad for you is poor digestibility. Roughly 33% of the carbs in the root are starch and of that, 20% is is in the form amylose and 80% is amylopectin. When eaten raw, these can cause stomach aches, gas, and bloating.
To avoid side effects, the process of gelatinization is the best way to eat or drink maca. Contrary to the name, no gelatin is involved (it’s vegan).
As the nutrition facts show, the macronutrients are also nearly identical.
Heat sensitivity of phytonutrients
Boosting energy levels, libido, fertility, and athletic performance are some of the best known health benefits of maca which are claimed. Menopause relief, less anxiety and depression, improved memory and learning (nootropic), and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) treatment are also being actively researched.
While it is not considered a proven enhancer or remedy for any of these things, there is compelling human clinical data for fertility including better sperm count and health, erectile dysfunction improvement, less frequent urination due to BPH, and bodybuilding or high endurance athletic performance. This is why maca benefits for men are so popular.
Though improving sexual desire in women is clinically documented, too. There’s also the alleviation of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and poor sleep quality, bone health, mood enhancement, and energy. (5) (6) (7) (8)
In short, even though most of the energy-boosting benefits have been studied in men, there’s good evidence of it helping women for many things, too.
The main active ingredient in maca root is believed to be an alkaloid known as macaridine, which is not found in any other plant. Glucosinolates are the other and they do degrade with heat. Therefore, maca is heat sensitive but not for the main active compound.
Glucosinolates are unique to cruciferous vegetables, of which the Lepidium meyenii happens to be. In addition to the prostate benefits in men, glucosinolates are mainly studied for their anti-cancer activity in the lab:
You can see here how the cruciferous veggies, highlighted in yellow, tended to have greater anti-proliferative activity in cultured lung cancer cells. (9)
Gelatinization, boiling, baking, cooking, or any other heating of maca root will degrade the glucosinolate content, perhaps entirely. However given that the raw root is too hard to digest due to its starch, if you want glucosinolates, you should probably check out the science on broccoli sprout supplements instead.
For macaridine, which is believed to be the main bioactive constituent in the plant, heating maca powder will have little to no adverse effects on it. This holds true for all colors, whether it’s the common white/yellow, black, or red maca.
What is a macaccino?
You can put maca powder in coffee. Adding it to the beans before brewing won’t work, because the powder won’t permeate through the paper filter. However you can stir a tablespoon into the mug after brewing.
A better way to drink it may be a macaccino roasted maca blend. Made without coffee.
The definition of a macaccino is subject to debate, though it always includes maca root powder. Cacao, carob, lucuma, cinnamon, and coconut sugar are sometimes added. A plant-based creamer like coconut or almond milk can be used to make it frothy, like a cappuccino. Macaccinos are a caffeine-free coffee alternative for boosting energy in the morning or afternoon slump. You can drink it every day if you want.
Where to buy
Santa Monica based Science of Living (SOL) Natural Foods is largely responsible for starting this trend in the US. They launched their macaccino powder mix in 2015. (10)
These days, you can’t find this product for sale anywhere.
What happened to macaccino?
Science of Living Natural Foods appears to have gone out of business. Their website is down and retailers who carried them, like Whole Foods and Amazon, no longer do.
In the United Kingdom and Europe, you can buy the Iswari Macaccino brand which is a blend of maca, cacao, and coconut sugar.
In the US and Canada, the brand Organic Traditions seems to be the bestselling option. What’s unique is that it’s made with the rarer black maca root, along with cacao, vanilla, and coconut palm sugar. You can buy Organic Traditions on Amazon.
Advantages of drinks with maca powder
The raw root powder has an earthy and nutty taste which is not to everyone’s liking. Some do compare it to butterscotch or caramel, but only in the faintest way.
It may not taste bad per se, though you won’t hear anyone say it’s among their favorite flavors. That’s for sure.
To avoid the taste, you could take maca capsules but those are a ripoff. To consume a 1 teaspoon powder dosage, you would need to take 10 capsules. That’s for the big gelatin or V-caps which are 500 mg each.
Since it doesn’t taste good and you may not be eating something daily it blends well with, the most convenient way to consume maca powder is in the form of a coffee, tea, or other liquid beverage.
The advantages of doing so are:
1. Hot drinks can be easier to digest
You don’t have to worry about this with gelatinized maca since it has already had the starch removed. With the raw powder, boiling it in water to make tea or a coffee-like drink will help break down the starches.
Otherwise, those starches will be broken down via fermentation in your small intestines. Like beans, that means farts!
2. Bioavailability may be boosted
We’ve already discussed how the glucosinolates will be destroyed by heat, but that’s unavoidable.
As far as the alkaloids like macaridine, as well as the macaenes which are unsaturated fatty acids exclusive to the plant, these might be better absorbed when taken with fat.
Most macaccino recipes combine the root powder with healthy plant-based fats like cacao, carob, and coconut. In addition to taste, the benefits of these is that they may enhance how easily the phytonutrients in maca are absorbed by your body.
3. Drinking maca powder everyday
Maca drink mixes make it easy to consume this superfood on a daily basis. Instead of needing oatmeal, smoothie, or a similar food to mix it with, these drinks typically just need hot water. That’s convenient for places like work, where you’re forced to curb your culinary creations.
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.