Podcast 416: All about Maca

Maca root (Lepidium Meyenii) grows high in the Andes of Peru, as high as 11,000 feet above sea level. It is one of the oldest and most resilient plants on the planet. It grows in places where no other plants survive, because of extreme climatic conditions in high altitudes. For centuries, Maca was a regular part of the Peruvian diet, believed to bring strength, resilience, stamina, and immunity.

Jorge Ureña, founder of the company UHTCO, producer and manufacturer of the highest quality maca on the market, is with us today once again to tell us more about this peruvian treasure! Learn about different colors of maca root, their benefits and nutritional value, and how UHTCO products are different from the rest of the market.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this fascinating interview to learn about more UHTCO products, including Camu Camu and 7Root!

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MARTIN: Hello, everybody! This is Martin Pytela for Life Enthusiast Podcast! And today I have with me Jorge Ureña, or George Urena, as the Canadians would call him. He comes to us with a company called UHTCO, and he is a phenomenal fellow. He knows so much about Peruvian agriculture, and especially about the crops that we can get from Peru, that are so unique and powerful, and to be found nowhere else. Jorge, welcome!

JORGE: Martin, thank you so much! I am glad to be here with you again and share all this information on the proven products with your customers. I think it is very important to educate our consumers on these products because they are basically different from anybody else’s.

MARTIN: That is what thrills me the most! When I first met you, I remember learning about the black and the purple maca, and then finally getting the maca concentrate, and it was just amazing. I only knew about the ‘ordinary’ maca, I didn’t know there were different color varieties, I had used it before, and it was like: well, whatever, maca. And then I finally got your product and I thought to myself: Oh, now I understand the hype! It was a significant difference! I would like to have you explain it, Jorge

JORGE: Okay! It gets to the point where many people, for example, go to the store, buy a maca product, and feel nothing. There is no effect. All the benefits that are supposed to happen never happen. Obviously, there is a reason behind it, and I would like to explain it to your customers. We already talked about it in detail last time, we discussed all about maca, so I will just go over it quickly now. Obviously, we can extend to a longer version later. So, what is maca? Maca is the root that grows in Peru at 14,000 feet altitude. It grows in the region of Junin. This is where these roots evolved for thousands of years to what we have right now. Maca wasn’t farmed until 1998, we were the first ones farming maca in Peru. I don’t know if you remember, but probably back in 2003 or 2004, maca was a new player on the market, a relatively new ingredient, and there were only a few brands on the market, including us. We launched in Canada first, at the end of 2003.

So I would like to show your customers what does maca root looks like. I hope you can see it now on the screen. We have a nice black maca root, a purple maca root, and we have also a yellow maca root. So we have these three colors. In fact, there are 11 color varieties in total, but we can actually summarize these three main colors – yellow, purple (or red), and black. Yellow maca is probably the most common variety, it is still maca, but it just gives you nutrients, not so much the benefits maca is known for. When we manufacture a product, we have two sources of raw materials – one is the fresh maca roots, and the other is the dry maca root. What I showed you before was the dried maca root. There are two sets of benefits that I can highlight. This is very important. The fresh maca root smells and tastes like horseradish, it is a bit spicy, not that pleasant to the taste. You can dry it up, you can mill it, and get a powder. But what’s going to happen is this product is not going to give you any benefit except nutrition. You are going to get nutrients only. Not that it is a bad thing, but it is not the main reason we want to include maca in our diet. The dry root will give you all the other benefits, I am talking about hormonal balance, energy, and overall well being. Of course, there are many benefits, like endurance, vigorous stamina, potency… so many benefits! But these benefits are only coming from the dry root.

Why is that? When the maca root is harvested, we have two different ways of processing it. You can powder raw material, or you can dry it. The dry maca root is actually not just something you put in an oven and then get it dry. You have to put it in the sunlight at a high altitude, over a certain period of time, usually six to nine months. The maca root will get condensation, it doesn’t really dry, but in a way, it transforms. We don’t know how, we don’t fully understand what happens inside the root, but it changes in the process, all the previous aromas and flavors of the original maca root are gone, and now we have a sweeter product. There are what we call glucosinolates in the dried root, this is just a chemical compound present in the root naturally. You will also get alkaloids and other different compounds that are not present in the fresh root.

Now back to the different color varieties – we have a difference between the colors. There is a different nutritional profile on each variety, and each product will deliver different benefits as well. So for instance, the yellow maca I mentioned is the most common variety. But the darker roots, the black, and the red maca roots are the most important ones. The purple maca will give you healing, soothing, repairing, relaxing. It is a product that will give you energy, but in a different way, it is more gradual, it is not as impacting as the black maca. The black maca root, on the contrary, is just like having a cup of espresso. It is a real energy booster. It will give you instant motion, energy, stamina, vigor, endurance, you name it. So you feel really, really good.

MARTIN: So it is more like the testosterone type of impact, right?

JORGE: Correct. But not everybody wants that type of energy. Some people may have a hormonal imbalance situation, for instance, they have too much cortisol due to stress, which is a very common problem nowadays.

MARTIN: It is always a big problem for a lot of people!

JORGE: Exactly. So if that is the case, I will not recommend you to have the black maca. Not that it is going to distort your hormonal system, but the most recommended product would be the purple maca. The purple root actually calms you down, makes you feel relaxed. You will get the energy, but in a different way, gradually, once your system is in balance, and that is the whole point. Each product is different. Everyone has a preference. We know for a fact that many, many women love the purple maca because it actually works very well for them and their hormones. You know, men and women, we are different! Women usually like to stay calm and relaxed. We men, we like strong stuff. For example when I am going to a coffee shop with my wife, I will probably get a double espresso, and my wife will get a cappuccino, something milder, you know, something that still has that caffeine, but isn’t that strong. That is more or less the same idea. My recommendation is just basically to go with the rule of thumb, okay. Black maca increases your energy levels quite fast. Purple maca will also give you energy, but differently, and it will make you feel relaxed and calm, which many people prefer.

MARTIN: Very good. Okay. So, to set you apart from the rest of the marketplace, I remember that you did a lot of support for the local farmers in Peru. You also had to deal with this market collapse that the Chinese people caused a while back.

JORGE: That was way back, maybe about five years ago, but it is happening again.

MARTIN: Oh, is it? Have they come back again?

JORGE: Yes! I am going to tell the story very quickly. What happened just a few years back… I was actually in China, I was there for a trade mission, and we were looking for customers in China. We found somebody that was dealing with maca in China, in Shanghai, and we had a meeting with this guy. It was surprising to us that these guys had been growing maca for a long time, maybe a couple of years, and they had even more hectares with maca than us in Peru, which was really weird. So we ended up finding that these guys got the seeds from Peru, they started growing it at a very low altitude, in a completely different habitat, and they were getting maca that looked like this, let me show you on the screen, can you see that?

MARTIN: I can see it. These are shriveled tiny little things!

JORGE: Yes! We call it ‘the maca carrot.’ Because it is so humid down in China, they couldn’t achieve a dry product and transformation within the root – like we have in Peru. These Chinese products were useless because they had no benefits! It was not grown in the ideal conditions for the nutrients to develop inside the root during the growing and drying process! That is also the reason Chinese maca can be so cheap. But the Chinese were really desperate to get the product because they started this whole industry that they wanted in China…

MARTIN: …because the demand was there, right?

JORGE: Yes, the demand was there for sure. So they even copied documents from Peruvian customs, they copied their addresses and everything, and said that the roots were actually imported from Peru! But they were all grown in China, with no benefits to the product. What they did then is they went to Peru and they started paying a lot of money for the maca roots, especially the black, because black is very rare.

MARTIN: Well, in Chinese culture, they are somehow really obsessed with the male energy, the male force, right?

JORGE: Correct! So what happened was many people in Peru thought: Chinese are paying a lot of money for the maca roots, so let’s grow maca! Junin is a protected area, it is like a conservation area, and the people are allowed to grow the maca on the hills, it is just a limited extent of the land. It is big, but it is limited. So they went to some other places in Peru, other provinces, other areas, which didn’t have the same habitat, the same altitude, I mean, it was a completely different story, and the maca started growing there, but again, it was not good enough, because of the growing and drying conditions. It was indeed maca from Peru, but it wasn’t the ‘right thing.’ People were losing money again because the size was too small, they were not getting the right yield, so somebody ‘brilliant’ started putting plant hormones in it. Plant hormones are going to give you a product like this (showing the root on the screen).

MARTIN: Okay, so now the size looks good… How is the nutrient content?

JORGE: I am going to make a side-by-side comparison here. (showing two different roots on the screen) This one is the ‘real one’ from Junin, and this is not. I don’t know if you noticed, but this one is like a rock. It has a rough exterior, it is not as smooth as the other one. The reason why is because of the plant hormones. The other thing is one product is lighter than the other in weight. The one with hormones is lighter because there is air in it. So.

MARTIN: It doesn’t contain the nutrients, right?

JORGE: Correct. So again, we had the same situation as the Chinese with a product that resembles maca, but it is no longer the same, and the benefits are not there. So when people are going to the store and buy a maca product, they are going to find products that claim so many things about maca from Peru, but they were manufactured with this raw material, which is useless, it doesn’t really give you any benefits at all. So the only place where you can grow maca, the real deal, is Junin! There are still people trying to grow maca somewhere else, and they find a market for it, and basically, they are making a business, but if you want really good benefits, these products are the problem.

MARTIN: We have a similar problem with almost every item, right? We have problems with wheat, with corn, with every agricultural commodity that people are trying to make cheaper. And in the process, we are finding out that the nutrients are lacking, or the benefits are lacking, and so on.

JORGE: Yes, exactly. What we can say is this ‘biopiracy’ harms the consumer but also harms the country trying to sell a product. The consumer doesn’t really know exactly what’s in the package.

MARTIN: I just want to say that the UHTCO brand has something to prove! We know that the UTHCO brand does go to the right place and gets the high-quality maca. I certainly know it, I’ve experienced it personally!


(end of Part 1, stay tuned for Part 2)

Author: Nina Vachkova