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Over time, Andean farmers have developed crops resistant to frost and drought, the same ones that can be planted at altitudes greater than 3,800 meters above sea level.
Among these species is the group of bitter potatoes (S.judepczukii and S. curtilobum), which belong to the great family of native potatoes. In general, these potatoes are highly adapted to the high Andean areas where, unlike the other large group of native common or sweet potatoes (Solanum tuberosum sub species Andigena), they do not experience major limitations for their normal development despite the extreme climatic conditions to those altitudes.
Bitter potatoes are characterized by their higher content of glycoalkaloids, the factor responsible for their bitter taste. It is from bitter potatoes that, mainly, chuño blanco is made, which is also known as 'moraya', in the Quechua-speaking areas and 'tunta' in the Aymara-speaking areas. Currently, due to the growing market demand, chuño blanco is also made with common native varieties and with "improved" varieties, coming from agricultural research institutions.
Chuño is a form of postharvest processing that allows the tuber to be preserved for several years, for use as food. This special potato processing technique is practiced in the southern highlands of Peru and northern Bolivia.
The manufacturing process
Chuño blanco is obtained through a natural dehydration process that takes advantage of the climatic conditions of the high Andean mountains that in the winter of the southern hemisphere (dry season: June, July, August) presents a strong temperature difference between day and night. night (going from 18ºC to -10ºC), in addition to intense solar radiation.
The tubers are subjected to freezing at night and during strong sunlight. To avoid burning, they are covered with abundant straw for five to eight days, and then subjected to soaking in running water from rivers or streams for 20 to 30 days, where the glycoalkaloids are eliminated. Then the tubers are removed from the water for tamping and elimination of excess liquid, to finally expose them to the sun for another five to eight days. After this, the tubers are completely peeled by rubbing them with the hands, hence their final white appearance. The production of chuño blanco lasts approximately fifty days, and the participation of women stands out throughout the process, who with great care select, spread, care for and clean the tubers.
Another quality of chuño is the black chuño, which is made from the small tubers of the common native potato varieties and some "improved" varieties. Its process requires less care, it is not soaked in rivers, and it is only exposed for five to ten days - without any protection - to night frosts and strong solar radiation, thus obtaining the characteristic black color.
The tubers thus processed can be kept for months and sometimes years, keeping their qualities almost intact. In addition, they are light and can be easily transported. Both constitute a local alternative to give added value to potato production in the highlands and are used daily in the diet of the inhabitants of the highlands of Peru and Bolivia.
"In the Andes of Peru in the time of November and December there is no fresh food"
And that is why, since ancient times, chuñoIt is a guarantee not to go hungry at 3,500 meters high.
Benefits of "Chuño"
But this wonderful product has not only served to enjoy a rich breakfast, lunch or dinner, it also has many beneficial properties for health:
It is rich in iron and calcium. It also serves to prevent gastritis and ulcers, being a starch that protects the walls of the stomach.
Chuño weighs five times less than potato and is easy to transport.
A 100 gram potato will result in a 20 gram chuño. That is, in the manufacturing process, about 80% of the water it contains is removed. But in those 20 grams all the nutritional value of the potato is concentrated.
The result of the dehydration process is practically an imperishable potato.
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