Solanum hybrid

Thank you once again to Eric in San Francisco (Eric in SF@Flickr) for contributing an image (original) via the BPotD Flickr Pool. Much appreciated!

Before starting with today’s entry: it’s looking like the garden web site, including BPotD, will be moved to the new server sometime next week (the lack of entries is due to my preparing for the transfer). Fingers crossed that this helps resolves some of the issues we’ve been experiencing. It won’t be Monday, though, as I’m also preparing for my lecture.

Continuing with the “Plant Diversity and Food” series, today’s photograph highlights a food long in cultivation in the high Andes of South America (parts of Peru and Bolivia). These tubers are known as “bitter potatoes”, and can be either Solanum × juzepczukii (a naturally-occurring hybrid of Solanum acaule and Solanum stenotomum) or Solanum × curtilobum (a cross between Solanum × juzepczukii and Solanum tuberosum subsp. andigena). Domestication is thought to have began approximately 8000 years ago, with particularly extensive use in the past 3000 years.

Bitter potatoes are often grown as a security crop. In comparison to the common potato, they are far more tolerant of the temperatures of high altitudes. From the chapter on tubers in Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective: “Recently, in an area of Peru with frosts and temperatures of -5°C, the reduction in the harvest was 5 percent in the case of Solanum × juzepczukii, 30 percent in the case of Solanum × curtilobum and 40 percent in the case of the common potato.”

Unlike the common potato, however, they require processing before they can be ingested. Bitter glycoalkaloids are present in the tubers, and these are broken down by processes akin to freeze-drying. For the production of black chuño, the tubers are subjected to a series of night-day cycles consisting of freezing at night and drying in the high-altitude sun during the day. Black chuño is often later rehydrated as a principal constituent of soups and stews. White chuño is a festival food, and it is processed in a more labour-intensive manner involving peeling of the bitter potatoes and storing them in water or constantly spraying them with water before beginning the process of drying. In some instances, geophagy (in this case, the consumption of clay) is also practiced as a means to neutralize the bitter taste of these potatoes (ref: The Cultural History of Plants).

Botany resource link: Eric also sent along the following link to share: the US National Science Foundation’s Science Nation online magazine has an article and video on “Science Behind Bars“. The article discusses Dr. Nalini Nadkarni’s Sustainable Prisons Project, which has a mission to “reduce the environmental, economic and human costs of prisons by training offenders and correctional staff in sustainable practices…we bring science into prisons by helping scientists conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity through projects with offenders, college students and community partners.”

Solanum hybrid

3 responses to “Solanum hybrid”

  1. Melissa in South Carolina

    When I was a kid, I always heard about those ‘1000-day-old eggs in China’ and ‘ancient black potatoes in Peru’- Food mysteries to Disgust Little Children and make them eat their own dinner. Soooo… it was great to get a potato photo and some details on processing. Thanks for this one – I am a student of Food Science and Food & Culture/History.

  2. Janet

    Fascinating. I had never heard of these, but interestingly enough, I named my son (now 5), Solan. A great kid who can be quite “bitter” at times–especially in the morning. 🙂

  3. elizabeth a airhart

    thank you daniel for a fine year of bio diversity writeing you have
    made it interesting and most enlighting this has been a lot of work
    on behalf of our world communties who read this page
    i hope changeing the server works for you takes time we shall wait
    thank you eric sf we have lots to read whilst we wait

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