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Typical Peruvian Vegetables
Peru is known around the world for its potato and corn varieties. But did you know that for example the avocado and tomato have their origin in Peru as well? And the country is home to numerous other internationally nearly unknown vegetables. Most of them have been cultivated and consumed since ancient times being an important part of the traditional Peruvian cuisine. Additionally quite a few of these ancient veggies bring remarkable properties making local dishes not only super delicious but healthy as well.
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Potatoes were domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago in the High Andes of southeastern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. In the course of the centuries the Papa developed to be an important staple food and a main energy source for early Peruvian cultures. The potato was next to the corn and the quinua one of the three main staple foods of the Incas and important for feeding the Spanish conquerors.
The Avocado has a long history of cultivation in Peru. One of the oldest findings regarding Paltas in the country were made in the pre-Incan city of Chan-Chan. In Peru mainly a green type of Avocado is produced which is native to the country. Although the avocado is botanically a fruit, it's a vegetable for culinary purposes. Paltas are used in many Peruvian dishes.
Peru has around 35 corn varieties. The most popular and most consumed is the Choclo, also known as maiz tierno or jilote. Choclo is a corn variety cultivated in Peru since ancient times. The seeds are bigger than the ones from the sweet corn often consumed in the US or Europe and white to creamy in color. While Choclo is one of Peru's staple foods, it never really became popular outside the country.
Maiz Morado is another corn variety cultivated in the Peruvian Andes since ancient times and once has been a staple of the Incan empire. Easy to identify by its deep purple color Maiz Morado is the main ingredient in Peru’s non alcoholic national drink, the Chicha Morada and a famous dessert, the Mazamorra Morada.
The yuca, a starchy tuberous root called also manioc, not to be confused with the yucca, is native to South America und was a staple food for many pre-Columbian cultures in Peru. The cassava, as yuca is known in English, was often depicted in indigenous art, like on Moche ceramics. The yuca root is long and tapered. On the outside of yucas is a rough and brown rind. The flesh can be white or yellowish.
Mashua, also known as añu, is a root vegetable indigenous to the Andean highlands and cultivated since ancient times. The tubers vary in size and shape. Mashua can be white or yellow; some varieties are even red or purple on the outside. Consumed raw Mashua has a peppery flavor that disappears when cooked. Mashua tubers are eaten boiled, baked, roasted, in soups and stews or soaked in molasses and honey to obtain a delicious treat.
Ollucos have their origin the high plains of the Peruvian Andes and are cultivated since pre-Columbian times. Next to potatoes and corn this root vegetable was an important staple food of the Incas. They come in different shapes and sizes, but usually look like a potato. Papa Lisa, as the olluco is called as well, is orange to yellow in color with red or purple spots on the outside and has a crisp texture.
Oca is another native South American tuber grown in the high Andes since pre-Columbian times and was a staple food of various ancient cultures. The finger like tubers can be white, orange, red, pinkish or purple. Fresh ocas have a crunchy texture comparable with a carrot and a tasty sweetness. To improve its sweet flavor and culinary quality, oca is typically exposed to direct sunlight for several days prior to consumption.
Maca is a root vegetable grown and consumed in the Andean Mountains for centuries. Traditionally it's always cooked and used in different local dishes. Maca is roasted to produce a delicious snack or dried and mixed with milk to make porridge. Maca flour is used in baking as base or flavoring. In the Andes a beer called chicha de maca is produced from the roots. Maca is believed to have hormone normalizing effects to men and women.
Caihua, known as well as Caigua or Stuffing Cucumber, was likely domesticated in the Andes and consumed by various ancient cultures. Belonging to the pumpkin family it has a teardrop to elongated shape. The outside is yellowish-green, the inside a light green and white similar to a cucumber. Caiguas are eaten raw or pickled, added to salads or stuffed with mostly spicy fillings. The Caihua has various traditional medicinal usages.
Yacon is native to South America and grown in the Andes for centuries. Also known as Peruvian Ground Apple Yacon was consumed by ancient cultures incl. the Incas on a regular basis. The outside of these sweet tasting tubers is tan, brownish or even purple brown. Depending on the variety the inside can be white, yellow, orange or purple. The texture and flavor are described as a cross between a fresh apple and a watermelon or cucumber.
Asparagus is native to the eastern Mediterranean area, cultivated from antiquity and now grown in much of the world. It came to North America with early colonist. Only in the 1950s the cultivation of white asparagus began in the district of La Libertad in Peru; in the 1980s green asparagus was planted for exportation in the Ica region. In traditional Peruvian cuisine asparagus is immaterial.
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