Monday, September 18, 2006

Potatoes, Aymara Indians, and Conquistadors

Mmmmmm. Who doesn't love potatoes? Fried, baked, boiled, mashed...some folks even like them raw. And everybody knows that potatoes came from Ireland, right? WRONG!

Potatoes come to us from the Andean Mountains in South America and were a staple in the Incan diet. In fact, the Indians of the Andes developed over 200 varieties of potatoes long, long before anyone had ever thought of the words "genetic engineering." Not only that, these ancient people knew how to freeze dry these tasty tubors. To this day the Aymara Indians still do it the same way it's been done for hundreds of years:

On a frosty night, they spread the potatoes on the ground. They cover the potatoes with straw during the day to protect them from the sun and then remove the straw at night. This goes on until the potatoes are completely white.
Now here's where the fun part comes in. Once the potatoes are completely white, the women and children stomp them in order to remove all moisture and peel. Talk about mashed potatoes!

Then the spuds are placed in a running stream to wash away the bitter flavor. This is the time consuming part -- it takes weeks! Then, finally, they're taken out of the stream and dried, which takes about two more weeks. Once done, this "chuño" is stored and will keep for up to four years.

The Spanish Conquistadors discovered the potato when they arrived in the New World and took spuds home with them. Even though it was observed that sailors who ate potatoes did not get scurvy, Europeans were hesitant to cultivate them since they were identified as members of the poisonous nightshade family.

The Spaniards also brought yams to Europe. People assumed that they were potatoes as well (hence the name 'sweet potato,'), even though yams are actually a member of the morning glory family.

Reference: Potandon Produce


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