Andean farmers freeze-dry spuds the ancient way

JUAN KARITA
August 20, 2013
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In this July 22, 2013, Aymara Indian Ramona Bustos walks barefoot on potatoes to remove frozen dew and the peels as she works in extremely cold temperatures on La Cumbre mountain on the outskirts of La Paz, Bolivia. For centuries, people in Bolivia’s high Andes have eaten freeze-dried potatoes, taking advantage of freezing temperatures and the burning sun to prepare the local staple called “chuno.” “I step on the potatoes with a lot of force to prepare the chuno, which will last me a long time. We will not go hungry,” said Bustos. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — For centuries, people in Bolivia's high Andes have eaten freeze-dried potatoes, taking advantage of freezing mountain temperatures and a baking sun to prepare the local staple called "chuno."

Chuno (pronounced 'CHOON-yo') means "wrinkled" in Aymara, and its method of preparation has not changed since its invention more than 1,500 years ago by Inca forerunners.

At the end of the harvest, farmers spread potatoes by the sackful on the ground for three days until they are frozen solid. Then they stomp the frozen spuds with bare feet and let the resulting mash dry in the sun until dark in color.

The chuno can be stored for the rest of the year.

"I step on the potatoes with a lot of force to prepare the chuno, which will last me a long time. We will not go hungry," says Ramona Bustos, an Aymara woman working on the shoulder of a mountain near Bolivia's capital, La Paz.

The potato was the first Andean product to conquer the world. But little is known about chuno outside of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and the north of Argentina and Chile. In the Andes, it is an essential part of the local diet.

A sack of chuno costs just $10, says Rosa Quispe, a vendor hawking it at a street market in La Paz's teeming sister city of El Alto.

"It will last you a full year."