Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Purple Peruvian Potatoes: The Gem of the Andes

From the outside, the purple Peruvian potato looks unappealing and even unappetizing, but its lumpy dark exterior hides a beautiful amethyst hued interior of superior flavor and nutritional value. First cultivated in the Andean highlands (the altiplano), the purple potato is just one of thousands of potato varieties which were domesticated more than seven thousand years ago and were a major source of food for the Incas; the Quechua word "papa" is the linguistic root of the English word "potato".

The antioxidant phytochemical anthocyanin lends the potato its purple- blue color. (In Greek anthos= flower; kyanos= blue). Anthocyanins are flavonoid compounds which are present in many fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds; cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, purple cabbage and olives are a few examples. Research indicates that there are many health benefits to be gained from eating plant foods which are high in anthocyanins and other antioxidants; cooking does not destroy the anthocyanins in these potatoes, which also contain good amounts of protein and vitamin C.

Purple Peruvian potatoes can be grown in any small backyard garden in Northern California; they evolved to thrive in cool climates with short daylight conditions. Some produce markets carry these and other heirloom potatoes; select a few with visible buds or "eyes" and plant them in loose soil, water occasionally, and wait. Potato plants require little care and will continue to propagate year after year. It's best to select a spot in the garden which you can segregate, as the plants will take over as much territory as you allow them to.

When shopping for Peruvian potatoes, look for firm, unblemished specimens which are small or medium in size; larger ones take longer to cook and may not be as flavorful as the smaller ones. Those which have a few buds are perfectly edible; buds are a sign that the potatoes have not been chemically treated. Store in a cool place in your pantry; their shelf life is good and they are a great staple to have on hand for quick meals.

Recipe to follow!