Peru and potatoes – The ever-growing agricultural heritage

Potatoes are the world’s most commonly eaten vegetable, and who would have ever thought that this starchy piece of deliciousness first began its journey through history thousands of years ago in the wild Andes of Peru?!

What the great Inca had discovered about the potatoes is that if they were to freeze-dry them, turning them into what is known as ‘chuño’ by the locals, they could store them safely for up to 15 years, an incredible feat for a food source at the time.

Not only were these tubular delights tasty, but they also quickly became the staple diet for the Incas with the versatile preparations such as boiling, mashing, roasting, fermenting and grinding giving way to a diverse, palatable experience for all.

Potato sorts (©NatGeo)

Today there are over 4,000 varieties of native potatoes that are cultivated in Peru. When you take a stroll through the markets scattered in the Andes, you will notice that they are packed to the brim full of a mind-blowing array of different potatoes, a sight that I can guarantee you have never seen before in your life.

To pay homage to this incredible piece of agricultural heritage, Peru even celebrates ‘National Potato Day’ on the 30th of May each year.

Gordon Ramsay ©NatGeo

Some local farmers even take the research and development of potatoes to the extreme, like the acclaimed Peruvian ‘potato whisperer’, Manuel Choque featured in the first season of Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted on NatGeoTV.

In a bid to share this incredible tubular journey with you, we have added the Manuel Choque experience to one of our sample journeys – Aqua Nera Amazon Cruise & the Cradle of the Inca Empire

Here, you will get to go on a private tour that combines a visit to Manuel’s potato fields in the Sacred Valley, a 3-course tasting menu under an open-air tent featuring unique potato dishes, a cooking class and a tasting of potato-inspired wines. This 4-hour private tour will give you the chance to gain unique cultural insights, to share the knowledge and the know-how of a true Peruvian agricultural innovator and to experience something completely unique, awe-inspiring and unforgettable.

Potatoes are also used in order to create/distill vodka and other alcoholic spirits, another revolutionary discovery and use for this interesting vegetable. One such a local company in Peru, Destilería Andina, is doing just that in the well-known town of Ollantaytambo (an obligatory stop on your way to Machu Picchu, directly behind El Albergue Hotel and the railway station). A great tip if you are looking for a unique experience while supporting a creative small company in the Sacred Valley.

The multi-award-winning chef Virgilio Martinez has been an important ally to the distillery since the beginning. Together with the restaurant of Martinez in the Sacred Valley (MIL) they distill and research together under the umbrella of the non-profit Mater Iniciativa initiative.

Virgilio Martinez (©Mater Iniciativa)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Destilería Andina switched their production of the local spirit called ‘cañazo’, a rum made from sugarcane juice rather than molasses, a spirit that is actually in danger of being completely forgotten due to the influx of foreign imported spirits from around the globe, to create a disinfectant that they wanted to donate to the farmers in one of Peru’s poorest provinces, Huancavelica.

If you would like to support the distillery we suggest buying the ‘Matacuy’ – an Andean digestive (renowned to bring joy after a family meal!).

The uses for potatoes seem to keep on multiplying, from feeding a nation, supplying nutrients to the human race, all the way down to potentially destroying viruses and bacteria. The list could go on and on and we cant wait to see what this proudly Peruvian product has left hidden up its sleeve in the future.

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