Chuno, the Andean Secret to Long-Lasting Potatoes
It’s seven o’clock in the morning on Bolivia’s altiplano, and an uneven carpet of thousands of potatoes is visible through the morning fog in front of a water tank near a house.
Farms in Machacamarca, a little community south of La Paz, are a regular sight.
“This is how we create chuno,” says Prudencia Huanca, 52, referring to a traditional dehydration method that permits potatoes to be eaten decades after they have been dug up while maintaining their nutritional value.
Huanca and her 56-year-old husband Egberto Mamani farm chuno on a small plot of land about an hour outside of the capital.
Chuno is derived from the Aymara word ch’unu. It is also done in Peru, however the origins of this ritual are unknown.
This farming couple worked in tourism in La Paz before the pandemic, but when limits to stop the spread of Covid-19 were implemented, they lost their jobs.
As a result, they returned to their hometown to carry on a family tradition.
“I still have my parents’ chuno,” says the narrator. They died almost 20 years ago, but (the chuno) has been preserved,” Mamani explained.
This conservation process, according to archeologist Jedu Sagarnaga, was devised “probably” during the Formative Period, which lasted from roughly 2,000 to 200 BC.
It could be even older, as studies on chuno discovered in Peru in 2017 revealed it to be over 5,000 years old.
In Machacamarca, Huanca and Mamani distribute at least 10 different potato kinds over bags on the ground as the sun rises and the fog dissipates.
They’ve had a difficult growing season.
Mamani laments, “The frost wiped off everything.”
The potatoes will die before they are ready to be harvested if the temperatures drop below zero before winter arrives.
The pair selects some potatoes for immediate enjoyment or as seeds for the following spring before determining which to save for the long term.
Once the potatoes for chuno have been chosen, the couple carries them down a hill to a field where they are frozen overnight and dried throughout the day for three days.
They will dehydrate and shrink as a result, allowing them to live longer.
However, some water remains in the potatoes even after three days. So Huanca and Mamani wash their feet in a dish and then take turns stomping on them, as if they were grapes being crushed.
It’s a social pastime, and neighbors come over to lend a hand, conversing in Aymara.
While some trample on the chuno, others peel it. Brief News from Washington Newsday.