Among Peru’s many delicious and valuable crops, none shine so bright as the potato. This hardy crop is the most eaten vegetable in the world, so it’s no surprise that it’s treasured worldwide – and Peru is where the potato most thrives.
The History Of Potatoes In Peru
Scientists believe that potatoes grew in the Andean highlands of Peru, Bolivia and Chile as far back as 13,000 years ago. Around 7,000 years ago, people living in the Andes were growing potatoes, and praised the crop for its ability to grow in difficult climates. The potato was brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 1500s. While the crop was initially met with superstition, it ultimately became a staple in most Europeans’ diets.
Today, potatoes are seen by major organizations as a potential power player in the fight against international food insecurity. Their toughness and ability to grow in a wide variety of conditions makes them excellent options for growing food in regions where resources are scarce. At the International Potato Center in Lima, researchers focus on this idea and study the ways potatoes might help to eradicate worldwide hunger. Peru is also home to a potato bank, which stores thousands of varieties of potato seeds in a secure vault.
If you’ve ever wandered through a Peruvian food market, you know the crop is abundant in the country – but did you know that there are more than 4,000 varieties of Peruvian potatoes? (And more varieties are still being discovered!) No matter what type of tastes, colors, and preparations you prefer, there’s a Peruvian potato you’ll love.
Peruvian Potatoes Are More Than Just Snacks
Potatoes are certainly delicious and filling, but they’re also not just used as everyday food – they’re also deeply valued as a part of Peruvian heritage. Subsistence farmers and local communities cultivate a diversity of potato varieties in order to preserve historic local traditions. Many special types of potatoes are traded and gifted among Peruvian communities. Some very special varieties of potatoes in Peru are even given as wedding gifts or other items of honor.
Potatoes in Peru are also sometimes used for holistic remedies and medicines. They are said to have medicinal properties for relieving headaches and treating skin irritation. They have also been used as an anti-aging tool in skincare. And of course, potatoes can be used to make compounds like flour and alcohol.
Types Of Peruvian Potatoes
While there are far too many varieties of potatoes to list here, there are some that stand out as especially popular among Peruvian food and traditions. Here are some popular varieties of Peruvian potatoes you might come across, along with the colors, shapes, and textures that make them stand out:
Papa Blanca: A firm white potato with a pale white shade.
Papa Amarilla: Yellow potatoes that become very soft when cooked.
Papa Huamantanga: A potato with white flesh but the rich texture associated with yellow potatos. It’s a common favorite, and you’ll often enjoy it in stew.
Papa Púrpura: A purple potato that turns slightly blue when cooked. This potato was especially treasured in the era of the Inca, when it was eaten by royalty.
Papa Peruanita: A potato with a vibrant, multi-colored skin and a rich taste.
Papa Tarmeña: This popular potato looks similar to a papa peruanita, and it’s commonly used in causa, a tasty favorite dish. You might also munch on this potato fried.
Papa Cóctel: A small, sweet cocktail potato with an intense flavor reminiscent of white potatoes. They’re tasty on their own or as part of a vibrant potato salad.
Papa Rosada: Also known as papa canchan, a potato with pink skin and white insides.
Papa Perricholi: A popular and relatively new variety of potato that is white and sweet.
Papa Huayro: This potato is known for its rich taste and is often used to add extra flavor to a dish.
Chuño: These freeze-dried potatoes serve as a traditional ingredient in some Quechua communities. Chuño has been eaten since before the time of the Inca. To make them, locals spread a series of small potatoes on the ground, and leave them outside overnight to freeze in chilly temperatures. In the daytime, as the sun shines down on the potatoes, locals trample over them to remove the water and skin. Chuño is eaten on its own or as part of dishes like soup or stew.
Oca: This bright-colored tuber is something of a competitor to the potato – it offers many similar perks but is in a category all its own. The crop originally came from the high Andes, where it was enjoyed by ancient cultures. You can still find it in many Peruvian meals today. Oca grows in colors like pink, purple, red, white, or orange. It has a crispy quality to it, as well as an unmistakable sweetness that most people love. It tastes great as part of both sweet and savory dishes.
Camote (Sweet Potato): Sweet potatoes (or camote) might look similar to their savory counterparts, but contrary to their name, they’re not in the same plant family as potatoes. That said, camote has been part of Peruvian culture for thousands of years, and has even shown up on ancient Peruvian ceramics. You can find camote in many different sizes and shapes, and it’s still grown in regions like Amazonia and Ayacucho.
Famous Peruvian Potato Dishes
Looking to experience a classic Peruvian take on potatoes? Here’s what to try.
Causa combines mashed yellow potatoes, aji pepper, and lemon juice with a variety of stuffing options. The final result has a trifle-like appearance and a delightfully fluffy texture. Causa is truly a work of art, both to eat and to look at.
A popular street dish, Salchipapas combines beef sausages and fries, topped off with a tasty sauce. It’s the perfect meal for anyone craving potatoes on the go.
Papa a la Huancaína
This delicious dish can be found throughout Peru. Papa a la Huancaína consists of boiled yellow potatoes in a creamy (and spicy) Huancaína sauce. The dish also includes boiled eggs, lettuce, olives, and aji amarillo. The tasty meal is named after the highland city of Huancayo.
This beloved dish, which you’ll find just about everywhere in Peru, has its origins in chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) cuisine. It includes beef, rice, soy sauce, tomatoes, and – notably – fried potatoes. It’s every bit as delicious as it sounds!
Where to try Peruvian potato dishes
You’ll find excellent potato dishes just about anywhere in Peru. That said, if you’re looking to see how a big-name eatery presents the ingredient, here are a few places to try:
MIL in the Sacred Valley
This world-class restaurant in the Sacred Valley has been called “a religious experience.” When you visit, you’ll enjoy an 8-course meal, with the ingredients of each course reflecting the crops that grow in eight Andean ecosystems. Many offerings feature innovative uses of hyper-local potato varieties.
Maido in Lima
Maido, which was named the Best Restaurant in Latin America in 2017, specializes in Japenese-Peruvian fusion (known as Nikkei). With the help of fantastic local ingredients, Maido offers up unique meals you’ll never forget. For a taste of potato, try the potato cream-filled dim sum dumplings.
Astrid y Gaston in Lima
This collaboration between chef Gastón Acurio and his wife, pastry chef Astrid Gutsche, is a favorite among Lima locals. The menu focuses entirely on Peruvian favorites. The eatery’s grilled octopus with crushed potatoes and aji panca is a great example of how potatoes can be blended perfectly with seafood.
Isolina in Lima
Isolina’s high-end take on comfort food draws heavily on potatoes to create cozy tastes you’ll love. Order the Cau Cau con Sangrecita, a rich potato stew.
Want to prepare a Peruvian potato dish yourself? Stop by a local market in Peru, take in the bright colors and variety of all the potatoes on offer, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. You’re just about guaranteed to head home with something tasty.
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