Beagle Channel in the Patagonia

Beagle Channel in the Patagonia

January 15, 2013

THE POTATO, A GIFT FROM SPANISH AMERICA


WHAT EXACTLY IS THE POTATO?


HOW DID IT BECOME A WORLD CROP?



The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family. It was exported from South America about four centuries ago, and has slowly become an integral part of much of the world’s cuisine. As such, it is the world’s fourth largest food crop following that of rice, wheat and maize.



A SHORT HISTORY OF THE POTATO.


First stages in the potato’s long story.


The history of the potato is long and varied and has also been much discussed, as researchers have not been able to agree on the origins nor on the development of this important product.
The modern potato began to emerge about 8,000 years ago near Lake Titicaca high above sea level in the Andes mountain range of South America, on the border between Bolivia and Peru. According to the results of ongoing research, communities of hunters and gatherers began domesticating wild potato plants that grew around the lake. These hunter-gatherers were not newcomers to South America; they had already been there for about 7,000 years before they started their agricultural efforts.

These ancient people were able to consolidate their agriculture by use of terracing and the construction of irrigation canals, thus providing food security based principally on maize and potato.


This coincides with the rise of two civilizations, the Huari (500AD) and Tiahuanacu around a similar date. These last introduced the sophisticated technology of the “raised field”, that is elevated soil beds edged by stone irrigation canals. In this way they were able to produce really impressive yields of potatoes.




LAKE TITICACA



In this photo, North is to the right


Source: Public Domain, (NASA), Wikimedia Commons. 



MAP OF LAKE TITICACA.






Source: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.



THE INCAS, NEXT ACTORS IN THE STORY OF THE POTATO.


The decline of Huari and Tiahuanucu around 1,000 AD lead to the rise of the Incas from the Cuzco valley. By the 1400s AD they had created the largest state in pre-Hispanic America, ranging from Argentina to Colombia.


One of most important factors in the success of the Incas was their improvement on the agricultural technology inherited from the previous Andean cultures. While maintaining the previous high levels of potato productions, the Incas worked at increasing the yields of maize.


The Incas are well known for their vast road system and network of state store houses. While maize could not be stored for a lengthy period of time, the potato, when freeze-dried, provided a product known as chuño. In this form it was used to feed both soldiers and laborers, and as an emergency stock if the crop of maize failed.


The Inca Empire came to an end with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores, but the potato has endured and indeed, spread world wide!



THE POTATO EMIGRATES TO OTHER CONTINENTS.



Recent studies have established that this tuber was first carried by the Spaniards to the Canary Islands, their landfall on the way to Europe. From there the potato jumped to Spain and then was gradually introduced to the rest of Europe. To begin with, people were highly suspicious of this exotic and rather ugly object.


Another Spanish export process from South America took the potato to Central America and extended it into Mexico. This innovation was later reinforced by European cultivars that arrived in North America with the European colonists. Quite an extended trip!


Today it seems incredible to think that what we know as "the potato" (Solanum species tuberosum) is genetically related to the seven recognized potato species and 5,000 potato varieties still grown in the Andes and also in the south of Chile.




THE POTATO





Source: Blonder1984, CC BY SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons




THE CHILEAN POTATO



Genetic studies have established that 99% of the world’s cultivated potatoes carry the genetic imprint of the subspecies that originated in the Chiloé Archipelago in the south of Chile, and which was cultivated in that country over an extensive area of the southern and central territories.


This fact has been at the center of a lengthy controversy as to which was the subspecies that was taken to Europe.



Recent academic publications consider that species from both the Andean and Chilote cultivations were introduced to Europe but that finally the Chilean type became predominant due to its higher resistance to certain blights, like the one that caused the great Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s.




CHILOE, LAND OF THE CHILEAN POTATO





Source: Cantus, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons



POSITION OF THE CHILOE ISLAND





Source: Keith Edkins, CC BY SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons



 THE POTATO TODAY!



At present, China is one of the world’s largest producers of potato crops, so it appears that the story of the potato has not quite ended yet!



A third of the world’s potatoes are harvested in China and India.


In 2008, United Nations declared that year to be The International Year of the Potato, also naming the crop as a “hidden treasure”


Long live the humble potato, a priceless gift from Spanish America!




SPANISH VERSION



En este post se hace una breve reseña sobre la papa, ese humilde tubérculo ampliamente conocido y usado en América Hispana.

Desde sus comienzos hace unos 8.000 años a orillas del gran lago Titicaca, donde los primitivos habitantes iniciaron la domesticación de las numerosas variedades silvestres de este tubérculo, pasando por el auge de las culturas de Huari y de Tiahuanacu alrededor de 500 AD y su posterior caída, dando lugar a la formidable cultura Inca, se continúa con esta reseña sobre la papa.


Los Incas fueron los creadores del más extenso estado de la América Hispana, que se extendió desde Argentina hasta Colombia.


Se `preocuparon por mejorar la productividad tanto del maíz como de la papa, elementos indispensables para mantener sus extensos territorios.


El gran Imperio Inca llegó a su fin con la llegada de los Conquistadores pero la papa no sólo sobrevivió, sino que se extendió a lo ancho del mundo actual!


Los colonizadores españoles llevaron la papa a Europa y a Centro América y México. Posteriormente, los diversos colonizadores provenientes de otros estados europeos la introdujeron nuevamente en América del Norte. Ciertamente un gran periplo!


Genéticamente hablando, la papa que predomina a nivel mundial, es la originaria del sur de Chile, concretamente del Archipiélago de Chiloé. Esto fue motivo de una gran controversia que sólo se ha solucionado con los actuales estudios sobre ADN.


En la actualidad, China es el mayor productor de papas del mundo. Al parecer, la historia de la papa todavía continúa desarrollándose.


Larga vida a la papa, ese valiosísimo obsequio proveniente de la América Hispana!



More about the potato in a future post.       Más sobre la papa en un próximo post.



LANGUAGE TIPS FOR ENGLISH



Words that go together!  * Break the law - * Catch fire - * Keep in touch - * Go blind – * Get ready



LANGUAGE TIPS FOR SPANISH.



Expresiones de uso frecuente: * Estar como pez en el agua - * Hacer bulto  - * La gota que colmó el vaso - * Mala hierba nunca muere



How is your level of comprehension?          ¿Cómo está su nivel de comprensión?



© 2012  joanveronica  (Joan Robertson)



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