Maca powder has become increasingly popular in recent years due to its wide range of health benefits. Derived from the root of the maca plant found in the Andes Mountains of Peru, maca powder contains over 20 amino acids and plenty of vitamins and minerals.
It has a mild, nutty and butterscotch flavor that makes it easy to incorporate into smoothies, baked goods, oatmeal and more. Maca powder is also considered an adaptogen, meaning it can help your body better handle stress and anxiety.
What is Maca Powder?
Maca powder comes from the root of the maca plant, which is native to South America. It's been an important traditional food and medicine for over 2000 years.
The maca root is dried and ground down into a fine powder that is light tan or cream colored. It has an earthy, nutty taste that is fairly mild.
Maca powder contains protein, fiber and some key micronutrients including:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
It's also rich in beneficial plant compounds like glucosinolates and macamides that are thought to be responsible for most of maca's health benefits.
Some of the top evidence-based benefits of maca powder include:
- Increased libido: Multiple studies have found maca can boost libido and improve sexual function, especially in those using SSRI antidepressants.
- Balanced hormones: Maca may help regulate major sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone in both men and women.
- Reduced anxiety and depression: Maca has antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects and may improve mood.
- Increased fertility: Maca has traditionally been used to enhance fertility, and studies show it can improve sperm quality and ovulation.
- Better memory and focus: Some research indicates maca can improve learning and memory in animal and human studies.
- More energy: Many report feeling more awake and energized after taking maca. It's a popular supplement for endurance athletes.
Due to all these benefits, maca powder is great for smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, homemade energy bars and more. It adds nutrients as well as a pleasant flavor.
However, there are several alternatives you can use if you run out of maca powder or want to switch it up.
Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal supplements worldwide. It's been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries as an adaptogen to combat fatigue and improve resilience to stress.
There are several species of ginseng, but the two most common are:
- Panax ginseng: Also known as Korean or Asian ginseng. This is considered the most potent species.
- American ginseng: Native to North America and similar benefits to Panax ginseng but thought to be less stimulating.
Ginseng contains active plant compounds called ginsenosides. Research shows ginseng and ginsenosides have a variety of health benefits, including:
- Reduced fatigue and increased energy
- Lower inflammation
- Improved brain function
- Antioxidant effects
- Enhanced immune system
- Benefits for diabetes management
The dried ginseng root is most often ground into a fine tan powder. Ginseng has an earthy, bitter taste that differs from the sweet, nutty flavor of maca.
However, ginseng powder makes an excellent maca substitute thanks to its similar adaptogenic properties. It can provide a sustained energy boost without caffeine or other stimulants.
Ginseng mixes easily into smoothies, oatmeal and protein shakes. You can also make ginseng tea by steeping it in hot water for 5–10 minutes. Start with about 1/2–1 teaspoon per day.
Key Takeaway: Ginseng powder provides similar adaptogenic properties as maca with benefits for energy, immunity, brain function and lowering fatigue. It has an earthy, bitter taste.
Yacon powder is another substitute made from the root of the yacon plant. This plant is native to South America and has been cultivated as a food source for hundreds of years.
The tuberous yacon root contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are prebiotic fibers that feed beneficial gut bacteria. Yacon also contains antioxidants and some micronutrients.
Research on yacon powder shows that it may:
- Boost gut health
- Help control blood sugar and insulin levels
- Support weight loss
- Reduce cholesterol
- Provide antioxidant benefits
After being peeled and sliced, the yacon roots are dried and ground into a fine, light brown powder.
Yacon powder is slightly sweet with hints of caramel, raisin and fig. This makes it a great maca powder substitute for smoothies, oatmeal or baked goods.
Thanks to its prebiotic fiber, yacon powder may improve digestion and gut health. Start with 1–2 teaspoons per day.
Chia seeds are nutritional powerhouses loaded with fiber, protein, healthy fats and micronutrients like manganese, calcium and phosphorus.
They don't have quite the same earthy, nutty flavor as maca powder, but ground chia seeds make an excellent substitute.
Chia seeds can be ground in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender. This releases more of their nutrients and creates a powder with a smooth, velvety texture.
You can sprinkle ground chia seeds over oatmeal, add them to smoothies or blend them into energy bites and bars. Thanks to their soluble fiber, ground chias help thicken sauces, puddings and even vegan egg substitutes.
Some of the top benefits of chia seeds include:
- Improved regularity
- Increased satiety after meals
- Lower blood sugar spikes
- Added nutrients like calcium, manganese and omega-3s
- Hydration due to their gel-forming fiber
Aim for 1–2 tablespoons of ground chia seeds per day. They can provide a nutritional boost similar to maca powder.
Cocoa or Cacao Powder
The main difference is that cacao powder is less processed than regular cocoa powder, meaning it retains more of its beneficial antioxidants and nutrients.
Both cocoa and cacao powder contain flavanols like epicatechin. Research shows that flavanols have anti-inflammatory effects in the body and benefits for heart and brain health.
Cacao powder also contains mood-boosting compounds like anandamide, phenethylamine and theobromine.
Thanks to its rich, chocolatey taste, cacao or cocoa powder are easy substitutes for maca powder's caramel notes in smoothies and desserts. They have a darker color than maca powder.
When baking, you may need to reduce other sweeteners in the recipe since cocoa/cacao powders have an inherent sweetness.
Some of the top benefits of cocoa and cacao include:
- Improved heart health
- Better blood flow
- Lower blood pressure
- Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects
Aim for 1–3 tablespoons of cocoa or cacao powder per day. Just keep in mind it does contain oxalates, so those with kidney stones should moderate intake.
You can also use coffee powder as a maca powder substitute, though the flavor won't be exactly the same.
Coffee is made from roasted coffee beans, which are then ground into a fine powder. The roasting gives coffee its dark color and bitter, earthy taste.
The key active compound in coffee is caffeine, which functions as a stimulant. When used in moderation, caffeine may:
- Increase energy and alertness
- Boost mood
- Enhance physical performance
- Support fat burning and metabolism
However, too much caffeine can cause jitters, anxiety and sleeping issues for some. Many report maca powder provides an energizing effect without these unwanted side effects.
For a maca swap, use instant coffee powder or finely ground coffee beans. The finer the grind, the more easily it will dissolve.
Add coffee powder to smoothies, energy bites, muffins or protein shakes. You can also use it to make homemade latte mixes. Start with 1–2 teaspoons per day.
Keep in mind that coffee will provide a more bitter taste and dark brown color compared to the mild nuttiness of maca powder.
Carob powder comes from the dried, roasted pods of the carob tree. The pods are crushed and pulverized to make a chocolate-like powder.
However, carob powder is naturally caffeine-free and contains less than half the amount of fat and calories as cocoa powder.
Carob powder has slight notes of vanilla, cinnamon and smoke. It's mildly sweet on its own but deepens when cooked.
Thanks to its similarity to chocolate in taste and appearance, carob powder is an easy sub for maca in smoothies, energy balls or baked goods.
Some of the top benefits of carob include:
- High in fiber
- Rich in antioxidants
- Contains calcium, potassium and magnesium
- May reduce cholesterol
- Helps manage blood sugar
Since carob can have a more astringent taste, start with 1–2 tablespoons per recipe and adjust if needed. It blends well with bananas, nut butters, cocoa and warm spices like cinnamon.
Vanilla-flavored protein powders like whey, pea or hemp protein also work well in place of maca powder.
Protein powder provides a smooth, lightly sweet creaminess. Unflavored/unsweetened varieties won't mimic maca powder as well.
Thanks to their mild flavor, protein powders are easy to blend into shakes, yogurt bowls and oatmeal. They mix easily when baking foods like protein bars, muffins or pancakes.
Some of the benefits of adding protein powder include:
- Increased satiety after meals
- Greater muscle growth and strength
- Speedier post-workout recovery
- Improved weight loss results
- More energy throughout the day
Aim for 1–2 scoops of protein powder daily. This provides around 20–40 grams of protein.
Keep in mind that whey protein (made from dairy) won't be suitable for vegans. Plant proteins like pea, hemp or rice protein are better options.
Key Takeaway: Vanilla protein powders like whey, pea and hemp all provide a similar creamy sweetness as maca powder when added to smoothies, oats and baked goods.
Ashwagandha powder is made from the dried root of the ashwagandha plant. This powder has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to treat fatigue, lower stress and improve concentration.
The active compounds in ashwagandha are withanolides, which are steroidal lactones. Research indicates these benefit the nervous and immune systems.
Benefits linked to ashwagandha powder include:
- Increased energy
- Lower cortisol levels
- Reduced anxiety and depression
- Improved memory and cognitive function
- Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Since ashwagandha is also considered an adaptogenic herb, it makes a fitting replacement for maca powder. It has a strong, earthy taste best paired with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.
You can add ashwagandha to smoothies, lattes, oats and baked goods. It also makes a relaxing evening tea when mixed with hot milk.
The optimal dosage is 1–2 teaspoons of powder each day. Larger amounts may cause drowsiness.
Matcha powder is made from finely ground green tea leaves. It provides a source of caffeine along with antioxidant plant compounds like EGCG.
Matcha has a bright green color and a grassy, slightly bitter taste. When mixed into smoothies or lattes, it provides a nice pick-me-up similar to maca powder.
Drinking matcha may also:
- Increase fat burning during exercise
- Boost cognitive performance
- Reduce anxiety
- Provide antioxidant protection
Since matcha contains some caffeine, it's best to stick to one serving per day (around 1 tsp). Too much can make you jittery.
Mix matcha into smoothies, puddings or protein shakes for a pop of color and added antioxidants. You can also whisk it with hot water for tea.
Matcha blends well with milk, cinnamon, vanilla, coconut, berries and chocolate. Sweeteners like honey and maple syrup can help mellow out its bitter taste.
You can use flaxseed meal as a substitute for maca powder in smoothies, oatmeal and yogurt bowls.
Flaxseeds provide fiber, protein and heart-healthy omega-3s. However, the whole seeds can pass through undigested. Grinding them helps improve nutrient absorption.
Flax meal has a mildly nutty flavor that blends into dishes well. It also works as a binder when making energy bites or protein bars.
Some benefits of flaxseed meal include:
- Increased regularity
- Lower cholesterol
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Reduced inflammation
- Added omega-3 fatty acids
You can buy pre-ground flax meal or make your own by grinding whole flaxseeds in a coffee grinder or blender. Use 2–4 tablespoons per day in place of maca powder.
Keep in mind that flaxseed meal doesn't provide the stimulating, adaptogenic benefits of maca. But it mimics the nutty flavor while adding extra nutrition.
What are the benefits of maca powder?
Some of the top benefits of maca powder include increased energy, libido and fertility, balanced hormones, improved mood and enhanced memory and focus. It's also highly nutritious.
What does maca powder taste like?
Maca powder has an earthy, nutty flavor that is fairly mild. It also has slight butterscotch and caramel notes.
Can I use cacao or cocoa powder instead of maca powder?
Yes, both cocoa and cacao powder make great maca substitutes in smoothies and baked goods. They provide a similar rich chocolatey flavor and nutrients like flavanols.
Is coffee powder an effective substitute for maca powder?
Coffee powder can be used in place of maca powder in some recipes, though the flavor won't be exactly the same. Coffee provides more bitterness while maca is milder and sweeter. Keep in mind coffee also contains caffeine.
Can I substitute maca powder for matcha powder?
Swap matcha powder in place of maca powder to add a boost of antioxidants, chlorophyll and caffeine from green tea. However, matcha has more of a bitter, grassy taste so it's not an exact flavor match.
What's the best way to use carob powder instead of maca powder?
Thanks to its natural sweetness, carob powder substitutes well for maca powder in smoothies, protein balls and baked goods. Use 1-2 tablespoons per recipe. Its flavor deepens when cooked.
Is ginseng powder an effective adaptogen substitute for maca powder?
Yes, ginseng and maca powders provide very similar adaptogenic properties. Ginseng can boost energy, lower fatigue, support immunity and improve resilience to stress.
Maca powder offers a host of health benefits thanks to its rich nutritional profile and adaptogenic properties. Finding a good maca powder substitute provides a way to mimic both its earthy, nutty flavor and energizing effects.
Some of the top maca powder swaps include ginseng, yacon, cocoa powder, carob powder, coffee powder and matcha powder. You can also use ground chia or flaxseeds, protein powders or adaptogens like ashwagandha. Substitute 1–3 teaspoons of your maca powder alternative depending on the recipe.
Add these maca substitutes to smoothies, yogurt bowls, oatmeal, baked goods and lattes for extra nutrition and a burst of flavor. Pair them with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, coconut, berries or chocolate to cover up any bitter notes.