Puno: "Chuño" a food for the NASA space age


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By Simón Romero

During the coldest months of the year "Chuño" is produced in the Puno region, this product is not only valued in the highlands, it is also a food for the Space Age.

Its resistance to the climate and its high caloric content, much higher than that of fresh potatoes, makes it a food to consider for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. That was published on August 10 in an article in the renowned newspaper "the new york times"

What did the Incas and NASA do in common?

Both face the problem of long trips through harsh territories. And remarkably, centuries before NASA's search for ways to feed astronauts in space, the Incas had already found the answer.

His empire ran up and down the spine of the Andes, with a network of roads, terraces, and impressive mountain-top posts, stretching the same distance as from Stockholm to Cairo. They needed nutritious food that would endure travel well and could be stored in bulk for a long time.

Chuño, one of the Inca discoveries that persists to this day

Chuño (pronounced CHOON-Yoh) is essentially a type of potato, developed by a culture that had none of today's food processing technology. Villagers in the altiplano and high plateaus of Bolivia and Peru still do it the same way the Incas did, using the warm days and freezing nights of June to repeatedly freeze and thaw potatoes, and stomp with their bare feet to remove skin and fluids. Chuño can be stored and eaten a decade after it has shrunk and dried.

"It was the food that sustained the Inca armies," said Charles C. Mann, an author who has written extensively on the American continent before the European conquest.

Chuño, largely unknown outside of the Andes, takes a bit of getting used to. Newcomers who taste it often comment that it tastes nothing like a potato, comparing it to the unusual taste of Styrofoam or chalk. And the smell? It's best not to ask, although the scent of chuño has been compared to dirty socks. It does earn some style points, its earthy appearance, similar to truffles.

Descendants of the Incas still consume chuño, which is often served garnished with ají, an Andean Chile. When money is scarce to buy canned food, or there are no llamas available to turn into dried meat, or the harvest from their farms and gardens disappoints, Andean families can always rely on chuño.

"This ability to store food is important in a region where periodic droughts can destroy a year's crop," said Clare A. Sammells, an anthropologist who wrote an ode to the staple. "Chuño provides the necessary nutrients to survive"

Original source: NY Times

Daily Mail

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