Peru, home of the potato

Peru, home of the potato

All though for many many years the potatoe was consired “peruvian”, since 2008 there has been a high-rising conflict between Peru and neighbor Chile. Both countries have been fighting for years about which of them can be considered ‘the home’ of the potato. Fact is that scientists all believe potatoes have originated from the Andes in Peru. Well over 100 potato cultivators can be found in just one valley in Peru! Some of the oldest archeological finds were located around Lake Titicaca. The potato began it’s career in food culture between 2000 and 3000 BC and continues today with many different colors, flavors, sizes and textures.

The potato was first introduced in Europe by Spanish explorers. Coming back home from their South-American expeditions in 1536 they brought potato plants with them. The Inca’s had been cultivating the plant for hundreds of years; Spanish monks started to spread the potato to other European countries. They planted potato plants in the gardens of their monasteries. Soon different races arose and people started to breed crosses. Nowadays there are more than 4000 different kinds of potatoes in the world.

Stuffed potatoes in Cusco

When the potato first came to Europe, farmers didn’t really trust this vegetable. They thought it would be unhealthy and saved the potatoes for their pigs. Potatoes were also served to the poorest people. It took until the 18th century for all European countries to grow potatoes themselves.

Today it’s not just the potatoes that serve as food. Also potato starch is used in the food industry to make noodles, wine gums, Frankfurter sausages and to bind soups and sauces. The starch is also uses in technical applications such as wallpaper glue. It is now hard to imagine that there was ever a Europe without potatoes.

Potato Park in Cusco, Peru

In Peru the potato has always been common good. A lot of traditional Peruvian dishes have the potato as one of the main ingredients. One famous Peruvian dish is the wel known Papa a la Huancaína. This is a Peruvian starter made out of boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce called “Huancaína sauce”. Another famous example of Peruvian cuisine are “Papas Rellenas”: fried potatoes stuffed with beef, onions, olives, eggs, cumin and other spices.

Visit Potato ParkT

Travelers in Peru can even visit a Potato Park, which is definitely worth a visit. The “Peruvian Potato Park” is located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, close to the village of Pisac, close to the old Inca Town Cusco. It’s is made up of 6 different Quechua communities and covers much land. This organization is dedicated to the conservation of all different kinds of potatoes; especially the more traditional ones which aren’t cultivated as much in today’s market. In this park you one can meet with farmers, cooks and also enjoy the food in the restaurant on site, called “Papamanka” which overlooks the massive park.

Papa Rellena of the Amauta Spanish School

A few anecdotes about potatoes

  1. In the past, a whole family would work together to remove the potato out of the ground. During the harvest, many children would skip school to help out. The government of some countries decided to introduce autumn break because of this.
  2. In Peru the potatos is a staple food. With so many varieties, some potatoes have been used for haute cuisine. They are used often for eating, but also ceremonial uses such as weddings, baptisms and funerals as well. Some are even made into what’s known as potato alcohol.
  3. Fries were invented by the Belgians in 1680. Poor people used to fry little fishes. During winter, the rivers were frozen so they couldn’t catch fish. As an alternative they cut potatoes in little fish shapes and fried them.
  4. The Papa Perricholi (white potato) is now one of the more popular potatoes sold in Peruvian markets. As this particular potato doesn’t turn brown after peeling, it’s ideal uses are for commercial kitchens and restaurants.
  5. The biggest potato ever weighed 11 kg.

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