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Oca leaves are small to medium in size with clover-shaped leaflets that grow from semi-thick, fibrous stems. Growing in clusters of three leaflets and ranging from green to purple, depending on the variety, the surface of the bright green leaf may be covered with fine white hairs giving it a velvety, fuzzy appearance. Oca leaves are attached to succulent green stems that can grow 20-30 centimeters in length. When consumed, Oca leaves are crisp with a tangy, lemony, and slightly sharp flavor, similar to the taste of sorrel leaves.
Oca leaves are available year-round.
Oca leaves, botanically classified as Oxalis tuberosa, are an herbaceous plant that is related to rhubarb, sorrel, and spinach and is a member of the Oxalidaceae family. Also known as Ocha and the New Zealand yam, Oca is predominately known for its small tubers, but the leaves, shoots and orange-yellow flowers are also edible. Oca leaves are popularly used in salads and are favored for their tangy, citrus flavor.
Oca leaves contain vitamins A, B, and C, amino acids, and some iron. They also contain oxalic acid which can slow the absorption of other minerals and should be consumed sparingly.
Oca leaves are best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as sautéing, blanching, steaming, or boiling. When raw, the leaves can be used similarly to rhubarb leaves and are used as a garnish or are mixed into green, leafy salads. Due to its oxalic acid content, Oca leaves are best consumed in small quantities and are often preferred to be cooked before use as the amount of oxalic acid may be reduced with cooking. They can also be blanched and served as a simple side dish or stir-fried with other vegetables and meat to create a complete meal. Oca leaves pair well with seafood, meats such as poultry, pork, duck, or lamb, fruits such as cherries, raspberries, and plums, other salad greens, and goat cheese. They will keep up to one week when stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
The Oca tuber was once known as the Irish potato, owing the given name to the shamrock-like appearance of its leaves. While Oca is not well known in the United States or Europe today, the people of New Zealand embraced Oca after its introduction in the 1860s and is now a favored ingredient on the island.
Oca is native to Peru, Bolivia, and the Andes, and is believed to have existed in pre-Incan times. There, it remains an important agricultural crop, second only to the potato. The Oca plant spread to Venezuela, Argentina, and Chile with the migration of native communities in the pre-Columbian era and was then brought to Mexico in the 1700s and to Europe and New Zealand in the 1800s. Today Oca leaves are found at local markets and specialty grocers in South America, Central America, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and select regions in Asia.