What would we eat if there were no French fries, potato chips, or baked and mashed potatoes?
How about no tomatoes? Would Italian food, say pasta and pizza, be the same without tomato
sauce? Would the world really be the same?
If you’re a foodie like I and so many millions are, no, eating would not be as rich and delicious without these original Andean foods, potatoes and tomatoes.
The fruit of the Andes
Fortunately, the Andes, a top world region of food diversity, has given us potatoes and tomatoes, two essential staple foods that today are consumed worldwide.
These ancient foods evolved in the complex micro-climates, extremes of altitude and rich soils of the Andes, over a period of thousands of years.
Both crops are members of the Solanaceae, also known as the nightshades, a huge, very diverse family of plants (up to 4,000 species) that also includes eggplants, bell and hot peppers and tobacco, along with many different vines, epiphytes and ornamentals.
A couple of factors were crucial in making the potato one of the main foods eaten by modern day
humans- its incredible genetic diversity, and the plant breeding practices of ancient Andean
The classification of potato species and varieties is very complex, and a subject of much discussion among plant scientists specialized in domesticated crops.
Recognized species (Solanum sp.) might number between four and 21, but potato varieties and wild relatives are in the hundreds.
The potato was first planted as a crop in the Andes around 7,000 years ago, probably north of Lake Titicaca in Peru.
Its cultivation was quickly spread by several pre-Inca cultures to the central Andes, especially to the cold, dry regions of Huancavelica and Ayacucho.
Early farmers, who observed that high crop diversity protects the plant from pests and diseases, learned to combine domesticated and wild varieties in their fields, and thus developed the tremendous diversity of potato varieties that exists today.
Agriculture in the Andes
Andean agriculture is centered around potatoes. Some traditional Andean farmers plant up to 100
varieties in a single field.
They come in every shape and color- round, elongated, spiraled, as well as yellow, red, purple, pink and more. They are consumed and processed in many many ways, including freeze-dried by the cold Andean nights (chuño and moraya).
Some potato varieties are even used in ritual ceremonies, such as pre-nuptial peeling of oddly shaped potatoes by some native brides.
Today, the potato is the world’s fourth most important crop (after rice, wheat and maize). It is a staple ingredient in the cuisine of most countries, and is literally responsible for feeding the world.
Peruvian cuisine features some of the most delicious potato dishes you’ll ever taste, such as papa a la huancaína, ocopa, causa, papa rellena and many more. Let us forever thank ancient and current-day Andean native farmers for this wonderful tuber!
From the andes to the world
As for tomatoes (also a Solanum sp.), the earliest varieties were developed in the Andes. These small cherry tomatoes migrated to Central America by 500 B.C., where the Aztecs made use of them, and provided their name, derived from the Aztec tomatl.
After Columbus’ arrival, tomatoes soon reached Spain and Italy, where the “golden apples” or “pomi d’oro” were adapted to gardens and to cooking with great success.
Today, we can hardly imagine eating well without enjoying tomatoes and potatoes in their multiple uses.
Perhaps, the deep lesson in all this may be that native traditional farmers are heroes, with the knowledge, skills and patience to feed the world.
Their lands, environment, cultures and ways of life must be protected and respected by everyone who benefits from the delicious crops they have created and continue to produce.
Come to Cusco and meet our Andean farmers, llama herders and many more wonderful people.
Please contact andeanlodges.com to find out more.
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