by AMY S.
While everybody agrees that the birth place of the potato is in South America, the exact place of origin is unknown and reason for the one or other open dispute between Chile and Peru. In any case there is scientific evidence that potatoes were domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago in the High Andes of southeastern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. The oldest archeological findings were made in the area of Lake Titicaca, the area around Ayacucho and in the Valley of Chulca. The word “papa” is originally Quechua and simply means tuber.
As wild potatoes taste bitter and contain small amounts of toxins, early cultures must have spend quite a bit of an effort to select the right tubers for cultivation that are more tasty and less toxic. In the course of the centuries potatoes developed to be an important staple food and a main energy source for early Peruvian cultures, the Incas and the Spanish conquerors. It is believed that sailors returning from Peru and other countries in the New World brought potatoes back with them to Spain and England around 1570. But people were suspicious of this botanical novelty and it took around 100 years until the potato was accepted. Once established in Europe, the potato soon became an important food staple and field crop. It helped reduce famines in the 17th and 18th century. Despite being first introduced outside the Andes region only four centuries ago, today potatoes have become an integral part of much of the world’s cuisine.
In Peru you can find more than 3800 varieties of potatoes. They differ in size, shape, color, skin, pulp, texture and of cause in their taste, but all have their place in the Peruvian cuisine.
The Andean potato is adapted to the short-day conditions prevalent in the mountainous equatorial and tropical regions where it originated; the Chilean potato, however, native to the Chiloé Archipelago, is adapted to the long-day conditions prevalent in the higher latitude region of southern Chile.
Over 99% of the presently cultivated potatoes worldwide descended from varieties that originated in the lowlands of south-central Chile, which have displaced formerly popular varieties from the Andean highlands.
The potato was originally believed to have been domesticated independently in multiple locations, but later genetic testing of the wide variety of cultivars and wild species proved a single origin for potatoes in the area of present-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia, where they were domesticated approximately 7,000–10,000 years ago.
Farmers generally produce these native varieties with minimal or no use of agrochemicals.
Diversity is conserved on farms and in communities for subsistence use and as a highly valued heritage. Most of these varieties never see a market; they are traded among highland and lowland communities and given as gifts for weddings and other occasions. The varieties differ from community to community.
It is believed that wild tubers were first domesticated around 8,000 years ago by farmers who lived on the high plains and mountain slopes near Lake Titicaca, which borders modern-day Bolivia and Peru. The tubers grew well in the cold, harsh climate and quickly took root as a centerpiece around which life revolved.
Ecogeography of the Andean potatoes.
As domesticated plants, the Andean potatoes are dosely entwined with the farmers and farming societies of regions where they are grown. The ecogeographic traits of the diverse potatoes are both a cause that helps to determine possible food-producing strategies and a consequence of past and present agriculture.
The potato crop of the Andes is renowned for its immense diversity: It contains a compiex of seven domesticated species and several thousand land races, as
well as numerous dosely affiliated wild relatives (Table 1). The so-called
fune 1998 Irish Potato, designated taxonomically as Solanum tuberosum subsp.
tuberosum, is of primary importance in Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa, leading it to rank as the world’s premier vegetable product.
The Irish Potato is, however, only one subspecies of this diverse complex.
The biological diversity of the potato complex is spread across the Central Andes mountains of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the region in which early potato cultivation began approximately 7000 years ago. Today the diversity of potatoes is dustered in the eastern Andean valleys and uplands of south-central Peru and north-central Bolivia (i.e., from the Huancayo and Ayacucho highlands southward to the Cochabamba and PotoS! ).
More than 1 million small-scale farmers-mostly Quechua and Aymara Indians-till the potatoes amid the abrupt relief of these tropical mountains. The varied types of their potato crop serve mainly as hausehold staples and pillars of 10- cal cuisine. Most farmers pair this staple potato growing for their larders with some combination of commercial cropping and nonfarm work. Since around 1950, many of these small-scale growers have also adopted geneticaIly uniform highyield varieties (HYVs) of “improved” potatoes. Most Indian potato farmers seek the dual benefits of asecure, desirable diet base that indudes their own diverse native potatoes combined with the desire for economic betterment through the growing of HYV potatoes for markets.
In the farm region known as the Paucartambo Andes, aseries of multidisciplinary studies is evaluating the ecogeography of the domesticated potato complex and the changing agrieulture of the Indian peasants (Quiros et al. 1990, Zimmerer 1991a, 1991b, 1996, Zimmerer and Douches 1991, Brush 1992, Brush et al. 1995).
Paueartambo covers a mountainous area of approximately 500 km1 in the Southern Peruvian Andes . The region is flanked on the west by the old Inca capital of Cuzeo and on the east by the upper Amazon basin and the Manu National Park and Biosphere Reserve. The region’s main topographie axis is the deep gorge of the Rio Paucartambo, which is fed by glacial runoH from the Oeongate Mountains and by small side canyons. Elevations range from nearly 2800 m in the valley bottoms to higher than 4000 m on the intervening uplands.
More than 20,000 farmers in the Paucartambo Andes grow potatoes as their staple crop. The Quechua-speaking Indian families sow their diverse potato land races-as weil as HYV potatoes and more than 25 other erop species-in their mountainside fields that together span highly varied microhabitats resulting from the sharp eontrasts of elimate and soils.
Historically, the marked concentration of diverse potatoes in the farmland of the Paueartambo Andes became renowned as a result of international germ plasm expeditions. An expedition of Soviet seientists directed by Nieholai Vavilov in the 1920s made the first widely publicized colleetions of potatoes. The
Paucartambo potatoes were gradua Hy eoHeeted and studied by crop scientists who compared them with other potatoes from throughout the Andes and, indeed, the world.
Local farming teehniques further promote and take advantage of the ecological versatility and coarsegrained eeogeography of Andean potatoes. Customary field rotation among a range of sites and seed procurement networks undoubtedly expose the potatoes to an ample spectrum ofthe region’s agroecosystems.
In addition, the farmers seleet seed of the diverse potatoes by culling most tubers through en masse mixtures. Beeause the diverse land races are not selected individually, each type must be sufficiently ecologically versatile to grow on the wide range of possible field sites.
The field seale. The farm field is a second scale at which the ecogeography of diverse Andean potatoes can be evaluated. Figure 6 shows maps of three typical fields of boiling potato. These fields, which are the most abundant type of diverse Held, contain the Cut-Leaf, Chaueha, and Andean Potatoes.
Each field typically sprouts a mixture of species. As shown by the frequency of species (the key includes the speeies classification of each land race), the Andean Potato usually predominates. The Cut-Leaf and Chaueha Potatoes occur in most fields, although in smaller numbers. The Limefia potato (Solanum
stenotomum subsp. goniocalyx), which was until recentlyclassified as aseparate species but is now identified as a Cut-Leaf Potato subtype, tends to be rare. This hierarchy of relative commonness among potato species is also typical of other Andean regions of Peru and Bolivia (Jaekson et al. 1980, Brush et al. 1981, Quiros et al. 1990). The boiling potato fields harbor an impressive riehness of potato land races.
(This varietal diversity of a single Andean potato Held exceeds the diversity of nine-tenths of the entire potato crop of the United States.)
Some of the most popular potatoes are: (don’t worry, we won’t list all 4,000 varieties)
1. Papa Blanca, White Potato which is firm and has a pale whitish color.
2. Papa Canchan, Papa Rosada which has pink thin skin and its meat is pale whitish colour.
3. Papa Amarilla which has yellow or butter color flesh.
4. Papa Negra, Papa Mariva which is dark brown turning black with yellowish flesh.
Besides the obvious (eating), the people of Peru utilize this crop as:
1. as source of Vitamin C in food.
2. as a source to make flour, alcohol and dextrin.
2. as anti aging agent when applied on the skin especially the face.
3. as medicine to relieve headaches and use to treat skin rash.
Potato cultivation in Peru will be found in Peruvian Plateau, giving an average yield of 9.4 tons per hectare. Other areas planting the Peruvian potatoes are:
1. Huanuco which is the main potato producer in Peru
2. Junin- Puno (Lake Titicaca) has the largest area cultivated
3. La Libertad (Trujillo) mainly supplies to the North
Numerous different potato varieties are sold under the term Papa Blanca; but be careful, not everything labeled Papa Blanca is a true white potato. Real Papas Blancas are characterized by a light brownish outside and a firm, pale whitish colored flesh. They are great for general cooking and frying and therefore probably the most consumed potato in Peru. Papas Blancas are used in all Peruvian dishes where the potatoes should stay more or less firm.
Under the term Papa Amarilla (Yellow Potato) numerous different varieties are combined. They have, as the name suggests, a yellow or butter colored flesh in common. When cooking Papas Amarillas get very soft and grainy. The Yellow Potato is the best for preparing a creamy and fluffy “pure de papa” (mashed potatoes) or the famous “Causa Limeña”.
Invented only around 30 years ago, Papa Perrichilo is one of the bestsellers on Lima’s markets. It’s similar to the Papa Blanca (white potato); sweet and watery, ideal for frying. As it doesn’t change the color or get brownish after peeling the Papa Perricholi is often used in commercial kitchens, restaurants and for industrially made French fries.
The Papa Peruanita has a distinctive bi-color skin and an extraordinary flavor. Boiled in salt water and served peeled or even unpeeled with a little bit of butter or a light yoghurt-herb-sauce its extraordinary flavor unfolds best.
For most the Papa Huamantanga is the star of the potatoes. Cultivated mostly in the Peruvian Andes, today it has found its way to all good sorted mercados and supermarkets in Lima. The flesh of the Papa Huamantanga has the color of a Papa Blanca (white potato) but the texture of a Papa Amarilla (yellow potato). It finds a use in typical stews of the Peruvian highlands or is eaten just boiled.
The skin of Papas Tarmeñas is very similar to the one of the Papa Peruanita, but the inside isn’t yellow, more of a creamy color. Usually this potato is used in the famous Causa Limeña as it makes the potato mass creamy and fluffy. It’s also good baked, roasted or fried and sometimes used in Lomo Saltado.
Papa Canchan, also called Papa Rosada (Pink Potato), has a pink, thin skin; the meat is of a pale whitish color like Papas Blancas, therefore probably sometimes sold under this name, but they stay much firmer when cooked and have a better flavor. Papas Canchans find a use in Peruvian stews, soups and the famous Pachamanca. It’s also the most common potato variety used for Papa Rellena.
Even if the Camote is only distantly related to the potato, its English name “Sweet potato” justifies its place here. As engravings and paintings on Moche ceramics proof the Camote is part of the Peruvian cuisine for nearly two thousand years. Today over 2000 varieties are known. Camote is very popular in Peru and replaces in many dishes the “normal” potato.
By now the sweet, small Cocktail Potatoes are known around the world. The texture and flavor is similar to Papa Blancas (white potatoes), but much more intense. They are great served just boiled or baked, peeled or unpeeled with sauces, but absolute delicious when used for potato salad.
As the name suggests the skin and flesh of Papa Púrpura is of a deep purple, when cooked mostly bluish color. Today referred to by some chefs as the “Gem of the Andes”, in pre-Hispanic times these potatoes were reserved for the Inca Kings. Purple potatoes can be cooked like any other potato and are very similar in taste to the “normal” ones, probably a little bit more buttery.
This potato is sold on Lima’s markets under the name of Papa Nativa or Papa Andina even if these names describe a number of different Andean potato varieties. Anyhow in the last few years Papas Nativas became popular in Peru when a big chips producer started selling naturally bi-color native potato chips.
Papas Huayro have a great taste. They are very absorptive and therefore ideal as garnish for dishes with plenty of sauce, for the use in stews and soups where they incorporate the flavor or as ingredient in Causa, Papa Rellena or mashed potatoes.
Black Potatoes are also known under the name Papa Mariva or Papa Tomasa Negra. The skin is dark brown to black, the inside yellowish. The Papa Negra is floury, slightly sweet with a pleasant taste and finds a use in almost all Peruvian dishes: stews, soups, boiled, fried or mashed. It’s an ideal potato for Papa Rellena (Peruvian Stuffed Potatoes) as it browns well.
Papa Tomasa aren’t widely cultivated in Peru anymore and today can almost only be found in the areas of Huancavelica, Ica and Cañete. The skin is light with purple to black spots and quite tough, the flesh white. Papa Tomasa are often used as ingredient for one of Peru’s most popular soups, the Sancochado and are presumably the best potatoes for Peruvian papas fritas (French fries).
Papa Yungay are very similar to Papa Amarilla (yellow potato), but don’t go off so quickly. Grown in the Peruvian Andes, they can be stored for an extended period of time without losing its flavor. Additionally Papas Yungay have varied uses in the Peruvian kitchen.
Chuño is a freeze-dried potato traditionally made by Quechua and Aymara communities of Peru and Bolivia. The production of Chuño dates back to pre-Inca times. After the harvest mostly small potatoes are selected and spread on flat ground. They are left in the open and freeze at night with the low temperatures of the Andes. At day they are exposed to the sun, trampled on by foot to extract the last remaining water in them and remove the skin.