The 3800 Different Types of Potatoes in Peru
The Origins of the Potato ("Papa" in Spanish)
While everybody agrees that the birth place of the potato is in South America, the exact place of origin is unknown and reason for the one or other open dispute between Chile and Peru. In any case there is scientific evidence that potatoes were domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago in the High Andes of southeastern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. The oldest archeological findings were made in the area of Lake Titicaca, the area around Ayacucho and in the Valley of Chulca. The word "papa" is originally Quechua and simply means tuber.
As wild potatoes taste bitter and contain small amounts of toxins, early cultures must have spend quite a bit of an effort to select the right tubers for cultivation that are more tasty and less toxic. In the course of the centuries potatoes developed to be an important staple food and a main energy source for early Peruvian cultures, the Incas and the Spanish conquerors. It is believed that sailors returning from Peru and other countries in the New World brought potatoes back with them to Spain and England around 1570. But people were suspicious of this botanical novelty and it took around 100 years until the potato was accepted. Once established in Europe, the potato soon became an important food staple and field crop. It helped reduce famines in the 17th and 18th century. Despite being first introduced outside the Andes region only four centuries ago, today potatoes have become an integral part of much of the world's cuisine.
In Peru you can find more than 3800 varieties of potatoes. They differ in size, shape, color, skin, pulp, texture and of cause in their taste, but all have their place in the Peruvian cuisine.
Papa Amarilla - Yellow Potato
Papa Amarilla (Yellow Potato) have, as the name suggests, yellow or butter color flesh. They have to be cooked carefully just to the point otherwise they burst open. When cooking the Papas Amarillas they get very soft and grainy. Yellow Potatoes are commonly used to make "pure de papa" (mashed potatoes) or the famous "Causa Limeña". But they are delicious also just cooked or baked in foil with different Peruvian sauces.
Papa Blanca - White Potato
Inside the Papas Blancas (White Potatoes) are of a pale whitish color and quite firm; however if overcooked they can get mashy. They are great for general cooking and frying and therefore probably the most consumed potato in Peru. Papas Blancas are used in all Peruvian dishes where the potatoes should stay more or less firm. They are great for French Fries, even if there are many Peruvians making them of Papas Amarillas.
Papa Canchan, also called Papa Rosada (Pink Potato), has a pink, thin skin; the meat is of a pale whitish color like Papas Blancas, therefore probably sometimes sold under this name, but they stay much firmer when cooked and have a better flavor. Papas Canchans find a use in Peruvian stews, soups and the famous Pachamanca. It's also the most common potato variety used for Papa Rellena.
Papa Cóctel - Cocktail Potato
By now the sweet, small Cocktail Potatoes are known around the world. The texture and flavor is similar to Papa Blancas (white potatoes), but much more intense. They are great served just boiled or baked, peeled or unpeeled with sauces, but absolute delicious when used for potato salad.
For most the Papa Huamantanga is the star of the potatoes. Cultivated mostly in the Peruvian Andes, today it has found its way to all good sorted mercados and supermarkets in Lima. The flesh of the Papa Huamantanga has the color of a Papa Blanca (white potato) but the texture of a Papa Amarilla (yellow potato). It finds a use in typical stews of the Peruvian highlands or is eaten just boiled.
Papas Huayro have a great taste. They are very absorptive and therefore ideal as garnish for dishes with plenty of sauce, for the use in stews and soups where they incorporate the flavor or as ingredient in Causa, Papa Rellena or mashed potatoes.
This potato is sold on Lima's markets under the name of Papa Nativa or Papa Andina even if these names describe a number of different Andean potato varieties. Anyhow in the last few years Papas Nativas became popular in Peru when a big chips producer started selling naturally bi-color native potato chips.
Papa Negra - Black Potato
Black Potatoes are also known under the name Papa Mariva or Papa Tomasa Negra. The skin is dark brown to black, the inside yellowish. The Papa Negra is floury, slightly sweet with a pleasant taste and finds a use in almost all Peruvian dishes: stews, soups, boiled, fried or mashed. It's an ideal potato for Papa Rellena (Peruvian Stuffed Potatoes) as it browns well.
Invented only around 30 years ago, Papa Perrichilo, named after the nickname of the Lima based stage actress Michaela Villegas, is one of the bestsellers on Lima's markets. It's similar to the Papa Blanca (white potato); sweet and watery, ideal for frying. As it doesn't change the color or get brownish after peeling the Papa Perricholi is often used in commercial kitchens, restaurants and for industrially made French fries.
The Papa Peruanita has a distinctive bi-color skin and an extraordinary flavor. Boiled in salt water and served peeled or even unpeeled with a little bit of butter or a light yoghurt-herb-sauce its extraordinary flavor unfolds best.
Papa Púrpura - Purple Potato
As the name suggests the skin and flesh of Papa Púrpura is of a deep purple, when cooked mostly bluish color. Today referred to by some chefs as the "Gem of the Andes", in pre-Hispanic times these potatoes were reserved for the Inca Kings. Purple potatoes can be cooked like any other potato and are very similar in taste to the "normal" ones, probably a little bit more buttery. They are best if roasted and then cut open, interesting in salads and absolutely delicious deep fried.
The skin of Papas Tarmeñas is very similar to the one of the Papa Peruanita, but the inside isn't yellow, more of a creamy color. Usually this potato is used in the famous Causa Limeña as it makes the potato mass creamy and fluffy. It's also good baked, roasted or fried and sometimes used in Lomo Saltado.
Papa Tomasa, known also as white potatoes, aren't widely cultivated in Peru anymore and today can almost only be found in the areas of Huancavelica, Ica and Cañete. The skin is light with purple to black spots and quite tough, the flesh white. Papa Tomasa are often used as ingredient for one of Peru's most popular soups, the Sancochado and are presumably the best potatoes for Peruvian papas fritas (French fries).
Papa Yungay are very similar to Papa Amarilla (yellow potato), but don't go off so quickly. Grown in the Peruvian Andes, they can be stored for an extended period of time without losing its flavor. Additionally Papas Yungay have varied uses in the Peruvian kitchen.
Camote - Sweet Potato
Even if the Camote is only distantly related to the potato, its English name "Sweet potato" justifies its place here. As engravings and paintings on Moche ceramics proof the Camote is part of the Peruvian cuisine for nearly two thousand years. Today over 2000 varieties are known. Camote is very popular in Peru and replaces in many dishes with its distinct orange color the "normal" potato. Sweet Potatoes often accompany Chicharrones (Peruvian fried pork rinds) and are used in the famous Pachamanca. In some regions even today the juice of red Sweet Potatoes is mixed with lime juice to dye cloth.
Chuño - Freeze-Dried-Potato
Chuño is a freeze-dried potato traditionally made by Quechua and Aymara communities of Peru and Bolivia. The production of Chuño dates back to pre-Inca times. After the harvest mostly small potatoes are selected and spread on flat ground. They are left in the open and freeze at night with the low temperatures of the Andes. At day they are exposed to the sun, trampled on by foot to extract the last remaining water in them and remove the skin. This process is repeated 3 to 5 nights / days. Once dried Chuño is contrary to fresh potatoes that are vulnerable to mold and rot quickly, easy to store. Kept in the typical permanently frozen underground stores in the Andes, it can be stored for years with no loss of the nutritional value. Chuño and especially Chuño Flour are used in many dishes and dessert of the Andes cuisine.