If you ever travel to the high Andes and see members of the local community apparently jiving while standing on neat squares of potatoes – chances are they are squeezing water out of their special potatoes to make freeze-dried chuño blanco
I guess most of us have come across freeze-dried coffee and milk powder – but the art of freeze drying potatoes in the high Andes is far more ancient going back thousands of years and what’s more processing is in expensive you don’t need any equipment – you let the natural environment do all the work in addition you need is access to fresh clean water from the Andes. High in the Andes up to about 4,000 metres special varieties of potatoes grow, they naturally contain their own glyco-alkaloid antifreeze compounds as the atmosphere here around harvest time is dry and warm up to 20’C in the day time but freezing cold (down to -15’C) at night. The anti freeze compounds mean that these special potatoes are bitter and unsuitable to eat without processing. I often wonder how the process of freeze drying these initially bitter potatoes was originally invented that turns freshly lifted potatoes into the white and easy to store and transport edible chuño blanco (chuff is known as tunta in Aymaran dialect) which can keep up to ten years. Chuño blanco is prepared into soups, stews and side dishes with cheese or with onions and eggs. The traditional chuño blanco producers from Puno in Peru outlined the process. The potatoes are lifted and the tubers are dehydrated for two to three nights. The frost breaks the cells and traditionally producers stand on the tubers to press the water out of the damaged cells. The tubers are then washed in the river and a second period of freeze drying occurs after they have been removed from the water.
Stream used for washing freeze-dried potatoes
The tunto is dried in the sun (possibly peeled and diced but I need to check this), polished and left in the open air and dried again. The length of the process depends on the variety being processed and the degree of frost. Around five thousand tonnes of bitter potatoes are processed into 1000 tonnes of tunto every year. La Paz in Bolivia is an important market. Farmers are also looking at alternatives to their traditional local markets for tunto, tunto is being marketed in international fairs.
© Andrew Ormerod 2013