A Different Kind of Potato

by Dennis Machicao

The potato, a very common vegetable served in a variety of ways. But where did the potato come from, what are its origins. It is recognized that the potato originated about 7,000 year ago in South America on the high Andean plateau currently known as the Titicaca Plateau that encompasses Peru and Bolivia. This region, with altitudes of 15,000 feet above sea level, is where the Aymara Indians inhabited and still do to this day. They discovered the potato or “papa” and made it a part of their culture, recognizing its nutritious value, its long storage capabilities, its hardiness in a severe environment and adopted it as the main basis of their diet and still do today.
In Peru and Bolivia, there are more than two hundred varieties of potatoes. As the Spaniards explored this region, they too began to recognize this versatile vegetable and soon brought it back to Spain where it eventually spread to the rest of Europe although considered as a food for the underclass. The Spanish sailors in eating the potato on their journey back to the mother country discovered that they did not suffer from scurvy, a disease brought on by lack of vitamin C, because the good old spud was and is loaded with vitamin C.

The potato can be found in different shapes, sizes and colors, yellow, blue, black and gray to name a few. The yellow or golden and the blue potato you might already recognize since they have become very popular in recent years. But black, grey?

The Aymara and Quechua Indians and the rest of the population for that matter eat black and grey potatoes. The black potato is called Chuno and the grey or white one is Tunta.

Chuno is a kind of freeze dry potato obtained by a process that dates back to pre Inca. When potatoes are harvested, smaller size ones are separated and are laid down on the grown to allow them to freeze in the cold nights of the Altiplano or highlands that are 15,000 plus feet above sea level. During the day, they are dried in the strong day sun and the process is repeated for about three days and nights. In between the freezing and the drying, they are trampled on to eliminate the water that is retained by the potato and to remove the skin. After the water and the skin is removed, they are again allowed to freeze for another 2 nights. This process turns the potato black and you get Chuno.

The white/grey variety called Tunta goes through the same process but after the 2 extra nights of freezing, it is then washed either by laying them on a blanket or straw and constantly spraying them with water to keep them moist.

They both have a distinctive earthy flavor. They are very hardy and can last for a long time–even years. They have a hard consistency but can be easily reconstituted by moisture.  They are used in a variety of traditional dishes one of them called Chairo, a hardy soup that has a mix of vegetables, maze, meat and chuno. Chuno flower is also a staple in the Andean diet, used in baked goods, or Chuno can be used as a side vegetable much like a regular potato. Organic, of course!

So if you ever travel to Bolivia or Peru, be sure to try some Chuno a different kind of potato for sure. If you like it, you can make your own, by just putting a small potato in the freezer overnight, bring it out during the day to dry it in the sun and repeat the process for three days and night making sure to squeeze out the moisture before you freeze it again.

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