Five Indigenous Andean Crops You’ve Never Heard Of

Tracey Li

Today, INESAD’s Ioulia Fenton gave a radio interview to Real Food Empire. The program discussed climate change, sustainability, and all things food and agriculture at INESAD, in Bolivia, and beyond. To coincide with the radio interview, today Development Roast brings its readers and Real Food Empire listeners five fascinating indigenous crops and their incredible properties.

On June 27, 2013 Giulia Maria Baldinelli wrote about the effects of rural-urban migration on agriculture in the Bolivian Altiplano, revealing that the high plateau area is a surprisingly large source of biodiversity. The prominent Russian botanist Nikolai Ivaich Vavilov identified the region as being one of the world’s original centers of domesticated plants; the fact that the Altiplano people were one of the first in the world to cultivate edible plants is the reason why they today have such a huge number of crops. In spite of the incredibly harsh environment—altitudes of over 4,000 meters, poor soils, drought, and freezing temperatures for several months of the year—this beautiful region is home to an enormous variety of tubers and grains. The most well known is the potato, but even this holds some surprises – whilst Western consumers may consume a handful of different varieties, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) over 400 varieties are grown in the Altiplano, and, according to the International Potato Center (CIP), more than 4,300 across the Andean region.

The region’s many lesser-known crops also play an important role, as they are resistant to the extreme climatic conditions, provide the local population with essential nutrients, and represent tasty ingredients in a large selection of both savory and sweet dishes. Today, thanks to information obtained from the International Potato Center and the American National Research Council, Development Roast brings you five indigenous Bolivian crops that you may never have heard of:

oca
Oca is one of the hardiest and highest-yielding Altiplano crops, and is the second-most consumed crop in the Andes after the potato. Photo credit: botanicalgarden.ubc.ca.

1. The proliferator: Oca (also known as papa roja – ¨red potato¨, uqa in Quechua, and kawi in Aymara) is a particularly hardy plant, making it the second most-consumed crop in the Andes after the potato. It is easy to propagate and when it is grown in poor soils at high altitudes it can yield twice as much harvest as the potato. These tubers are a good source of carbohydrate, calcium, and iron, and have a nutritional value which is equal to, or better than, the potato. Some varieties are also high in protein. A few species are eaten raw, others are cooked, and, after placing the tubers in the sun for a few days to increase their glucose content, some are served as a sweet. The plants can also be used as animal feed.

Papalisa yields edible tubers which can be stored for long periods of time. Its leaves are also edible and nutritious and are used in salads. Photo credit: http://calendariosaboresbolivia.com
Papalisa yields edible tubers which can be stored for long periods of time. Its leaves are also edible and nutritious and are used in salads. Photo credit: http://calendariosaboresbolivia.com

2. The disease beater: Papalisa (¨smooth potato¨, also known as ulluco, or olluco) has brightly colored edible tubers, which otherwise look like potatoes, and are considered a delicacy. They are primarily prepared like potatoes and used in stews and soups, but are also pickled and used to make spicy sauces. The tubers can keep for up to a year and their spinach-like leaves are also nutritious. The plant is frost-resistant, moderately drought-tolerant, produces reasonable yields in poor soils, and does not suffer from many pests or diseases.

Isaño is an attractive flowering plant with edible tubers, leaves, and flowers. It has a high level of natural pest-resistance. Photo credit: onlyfoods.net.
Isaño is an attractive flowering plant with edible tubers, leaves, and flowers. It has a high level of natural pest-resistance. Photo credit: onlyfoods.net.

3. The frost fighter: Isaño (also known as mashua, mashwa, majua, cubio, añú, or papa amarga – ¨bitter potato¨) is a flowering plant, related to the garden nasturtium, grown for its edible tubers. It is favored by Andean farmers as it is easier to grow than many other crops, and is one of the most cold-resistant and highest-yielding varieties. Due to its natural pest resistance, it is the prevalent crop in regions where pesticides and fertilizers are unavailable and is also a popular choice for planting in close proximity to other crops. The tubers can be stored underground and harvested when needed. They are cooked and eaten in stews, baked or fried like vegetables, or soaked in syrups and eaten as a sweet. The young leaves and flowers can also be eaten as a vegetable.

Nutritious cañahua grains are ground into a flour which is used to make delicious cakes and breads. Photo credit: http://calendariosaboresbolivia.com.
Cañahua flour is used to make delicious cakes and breads. Photo credit: http://calendariosaboresbolivia.com.

4. The draught resister: Cañahua (also known as kañiwa) is one of the most nutritious grains in the regions, with similar properties and uses to quinoa. It has a protein content of 16-19 percent, which is close to that of cooked lean beef. It grows well in poor soils at high elevations, thrives on frosts that kill other crops, and is the most drought-resistant grain found in the Andean region. The grains are toasted and ground to form a flour that is eaten with sugar, added to soups, or used to make breads and cakes.

5. The protein booster: Tarwi is a species of lupin that produces attractive flowers and edible beans that contain more protein (40 percent) than peas, soybeans, peanuts, and even some types of meat. It also contains 20 percent oil. The only drawback is its bitter flavor, which can be washed out by soaking the beans in water for a few days. The beans are then eaten in stews and soups, or as snacks like peanuts. The plant also has strong nitrogen-fixing abilities, meaning that it enriches the soil as it grows, which benefits other plants.

Tarwi beans contain more protein than some types of meat, and are rich in oil. Photo credit: http://calendariosaboresbolivia.com.
Tarwi beans contain more protein than some types of meat, and are rich in oil. Photo credit: http://calendariosaboresbolivia.com.
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Do you know any interesting facts about indigenous crops? Please leave a reply below.

Tracey Li is a Senior Research and Communications Intern with INESAD.

For your reference:

Baldinelli, G. M. (2013). What does migration have to do with on-farm conservation? A field report from the Altiplano Norte of Bolivia. Development Roast, June 27, 2013.

FAO Corporate Documentary Repository (1995). Neglected crops: 1492 from a different perspective. <http://www.fao.org/docrep/t0646e/t0646e0e.htm>.

International Potato Center. Andean root & tuber crops. <http://cipotato.org/roots-and-tubers/>.

National Research Council (US) Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation (1989). Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. National Academy Press. <http://goo.gl/HF9hH>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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