Cultivation, Culture, and Cuisine: The Andean Potato's Domestication and Role in Traditional Rituals and Practices of Highland, Indigenous Communities
The potato was first domesticated by pre-Inca and Inca civilizations over 8,000 years ago along the mountain slopes and high plains near Lake Titicaca, in present-day Peru and Bolivia. Today, more than three billion people consume potatoes, making it the fourth most important food crop in the world. Most people are only familiar with the cultivar potato, yet over 4,000 exist in the Andes of South America. In addition to serving as a prevalent food source, the tuber is a spiritual part of the Andean community. Its religious and cultural importance plays an integral role in retaining their heritage and cuisine. However, the communities that cultivate it are some of the poorest in Peru and are facing many changes that may threaten potato diversity. In order to understand the potato’s importance in today’s culture and gastronomy it is important to understand the tuber’s growth, and purpose in the Andes. This paper outlines the potato’s domestication and cultivation, its role in traditional Andean rituals and practices, and the current agrobiodiversity conservation efforts. The potato illustrates one example of a food crop that has an integral role in the preservation and success of a culture.