Making therapeutic grade Maca is a blend of tradition, art and science. There are so many variables that can influence the quality during production and in turn alter the taste, texture and therapeutic properties of the final powder. Couple this with the ethics and sustainability of how it is sourced and finding a quality powder that isn’t hurting a community or the environment can be like finding a needle in a haystack. With the value of the exporting market reaching $33 million (USD) globally and so many companies trying to cash in on the action, all buying at the mercy of incentivised brokers in Peru, how do we know whether or not the powder we buy is worth the cost we pay? And how do we know whether we are fuelling the exploitation of farmers and communities in Peru or whether we are actually helping those who work so hard to produce Maca?
Below we have formulated 5 key questions we believe you must ask and have answered before choosing to buy Maca powder from anyone to ensure that your Maca is ethical, fair, sustainably produced, therapeutic and premium quality.
1. What form is the Maca; fresh, dried, raw, gelatinized or atomized?
The type of preparation of Maca will determine the way it should be prepared and in-turn the taste and therapeutic properties. Consuming Maca in the wrong way may greatly affect the potency and may even have negative side-effects on the body, not to mention an off-putting taste. Below is a chart outlining the different preparations and how each is best prepared in-line with science and tradition. One of the largest mistakes with regards to Westernised consumption of Maca is the ingestion of raw powder. This goes against the traditional practice of how it is consumed and the scientific studies relating to it. The Inca have never eaten raw maca for 2000 years and warn about doing it, maca has always been cooked or boiled (read more). For those looking for delicious ways that maca can be included in your daily routine check out our recipe booklet here. Beside the type of maca you must also know what colour you are consuming (yellow, red or black) as each has different biochemical profiles and offers different benefits. To understand the difference between the colours of maca please read more here.
Different types of Maca and how each should be prepared
2. What is the total macamide concentration?
The bio-active components of Maca that work in our brain to harmonize hormonal and nervous system imbalances are a series of Maca-specific fatty acid derivatives known as macamides and macaenes. These molecules work directly with a key enzyme in our endocannabinoid system (FAAH) to regulate and balance our entire endocrine function (read more here). They also act as key quality markers to the therapeutic potential of your Maca and a guide as to what dose you should take. A simple method to calculate the activity of a powder is to analyse 5 key known and characterized macamides* and their respective weight per gram of powder. The sum of all 5 can be expressed as a weight percentage.
For a therapeutic powder a total known macamide weight percentage should be 0.25% or higher. This ensures 25+mg per 10g serve (1 tsp). The ideal target for general conditions and maintenance is 20-30 mg of macamides per day, while acute or chronic conditions can sometimes require 50-75 mg per day. It is best to consume daily for 4-8+ weeks to receive the optimum benefit for most endocrine issues. For more guidance on which Maca is right for you see here.
An independent analysis of 5 commercially available samples in New Zealand recently demonstrated only 2/5 powders were within this therapeutic range, meaning many customers purchasing Maca may be wasting their money on inferior powders that lack any therapeutic benefit. To ensure you are taking Maca that works check the macamide concentrations on the pack or with the supplier.
Not all maca powders are created equal. Macamide levels act as ideal quality guides for therapeutic benefit.
HPLC analysis of 5 key macamides* in randomly chosen commercial samples in NZ expressed at a % of total weight (mg/g).
*Macaene, N-Bz-HexDecamide, N-Bz-OctDecamide, N-Bz-OctatrienDecamide, N-Bz-OctdieneDecamide.
Ensure your Maca is Peruvian, single-origin and from the region of Junin.
3. Is it Peruvian Maca and where is the farm it is sourced from, is it single origin or multi-origin?
Maca is a plant unique to the Andes of Peru. It only grows between 3800-4500m and has been cultivated by the Inca for over 2000 years for medicinal and therapeutic uses. The main farming area and spiritual home to Maca is in the region of Junin where climatic and soil conditions are ideal to produce the best quality roots. Scientific studies have shown that Maca grown in other areas of Peru and the world lack the therapeutic properties of Maca from its cultivated birthplace in Junin (see here). All Maca sourced from Peru comes with a certificate of origin that should be provided upon exportation. Included should also be an organic certification. Ensure you are getting Maca from Junin as this is the region that produces the best quality roots and ensure it is organic certified. Also check if it is single origin (from 1 single farm) or multi origin (multiple farms) as this can affect the quality. Multi origin maca is often an assortment of quality powders mixed with cheaper powders to create a blend. Single origin artisanal maca is generally of better quality and higher macamide concentration.
4. How was the Maca produced, is it artisanal, following traditional farming methods or machine and factory mass produced?
Making good quality Maca is like making a good quality wine. Maca production is a long and complex, slow process. It consists of 2 continual overlapping cycles to produce the Maca roots and seeds seperately, each taking 9-12 months in total. Harvesting is all done by hand and drying of bulbs is naturally achieved at altitude over 3 months. Given the increased demand for Maca many farmers are now cutting corners to speed up production. This could be some of the reason to the large variations in Maca powder quality seen in the exporting market. Our research has shown that there are 6 key steps to producing premium quality powder. To ensure your Maca is potent, therapeutic and a rich palatable malt caramel flavour it is best to find Maca that has been cultivated traditionally. Each step and requirement is outlined below:
Seeding must be within a week before the rains begin (Nov-Dec) and seedlings must be spaced an optimum 10-15cm apart.
Harvesting must be in July, using traditional hand tools and individual root selection based on the size, firmness, shape, colour and texture.
Drying must be done naturally at altitude for at least 3 months to ensure complete removal of water content. This step can increase bioactivity by up to 10x.
The soil between crops needs to be rested for up to 10 years to ensure adequate mineral content for the next batch. There should be no use of artificial fertilisers as this can exhaust the soil for future crops.
15-20% of the best quality roots should be replanted post-harvest to grow rosettes that encase the seed capsules for the following harvest. Seeds are best separated by wind dispersion for optimum quality.
Post processing of powders by gelatinization utilizing high-pressure steam (140oC) for 5-10 seconds can activate macamides, reduce starch and sanitise from aflatoxin producing mould. This can also improve taste, texture and palatability and also increase bio-activity.
The artisanal production cycles for Peruvian Maca.
5. Was the farmer and community fairly rewarded for their Maca? Is the Maca socially and environmentally sustainable and were cultural and spiritual traditions maintained during sourcing?
Many farmers in the region of Junin are lucky to receive $1-2 per kg for their Maca, while companies here sell the same powder for up to $120 per kg!! Farmers often talk about pricing wars where brokers demand impossible prices per kg, while threatening to buy from other sources if the price is not met. Most Maca farmers are living far below the poverty line without access to basic essential living necessities and comforts. They often will sell for incredibly low prices just to receive money up front to feed their families, then find that they have no more income until their next batch of Maca is produced a year later. A large amount of Maca sold for export is from stockpiles accumulated via this practice and is the reason for the economic, cultural and spiritual demise of the Maca farming industry. Without fair reward farming communities are stuck far below the poverty line with catastrophic social decline due to continual economic pressures.
Farmers in these communities push their Maca production at the expense of the environment, leaving long-lasting damage to land that may take generations to fix. As farmers struggle to manage the issues with supply and demand many farms are now on the brink of an environmental disaster. Without a change to a sustainable approach to farming we could see less and less land being suitable to grow Maca over the next 10 years. From a spiritual perspective this economic and environmental exploitation has turned a 2000-year-old sacred practice into a commercialised venture where traditions are being rapidly lost. For the Inca, Maca is a sacred plant that should not be removed from the soil without a blessing from the local shaman. “She (‘la maca’) is a gift from the gods and must be cultivated and respected in the way that she requires or else she will not provide for you”. The demand from brokers and exporters in a hurry to get rich off the backs of farmers has taken the spirituality away from the communities that cultivate Maca and replaced it with empty promises.
When purchasing Maca we urge you to do your homework on the ethics of the source and their model of sustainability or else your purchase may actually be fuelling the demise of a once beautiful cultural and spiritual practice. Become a conscious consumer and buy ethically and sustainably.
At Seleno Health our mission is to preserve and protect the tradition and culture of Maca in Peru. We study and analyse all aspects of production to ensure the premium quality of our final product. How our Maca is different:
It’s ethically and fairly sourced
Our Maca is ethically sourced from Farm To Table. We plant and harvest with our farmer and family in Peru and follow the production from start to finish. We harvest it every July with volunteers from around the world. Our farmer creates and bags the products entirely in Peru from his farm and receives 20x more than before per kg for his Maca. He can now focus on product quality, environmental protection, cultural traditions and sustainability.
It’s socially responsible
We donate approximately 10% of profit per bag sold to a fund for the children of our farming community. When you buy our Maca you are directly supporting our farmer and his community and making a conscious effort to promote fair and ethical trade. You are helping us eradicate farmer exploitation and ensuring the sustainable long-term survival of the Maca industry in Peru. Our funds buy industrial sewing machines, textiles and fabrics, blankets for winter, clothing, books, pens, pencils, uniforms, shoes and sporting equipment to help the children of our local school.
It’s premium quality and gelatinised
We run a Maca research program at Victoria University investigating the biochemical differences between different Maca samples. We have perfected creating premium, therapeutic grade Maca using analysis during key preparation steps. Our Maca is premium quality and standardised by its concentration of macamides and macaenes to ensure it gives our customers superior therapeutic results. It is also gelatinised – maca is not meant to be consumed raw. Our gelatinised Maca is more potent, easy on the stomach and ready to eat, no need to cook. Our Maca had the highest concentration of 5 key macamides compared to other samples we randomly selected from health foods stores in New Zealand. All our Maca products are carefully standardised and doses are related directly to the levels of active macamides to ensure you receive the ideal dose for therapeutic benefit.
It’s funding trade and development in Peru
With our profits we run a volunteer program that brings people to Peru to live and work on our remote farm in the Andean mountains of Junin (4000m+). We are creating trade through the funding of a textile facility and accommodation units for sustainable eco-tourism. We are invested in the future of our community in San Jose de Quero, not just out to make money from the superfood industry. See more here.
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