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In many highland areas of the Andes, ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus) is a staple, and in a few it is the predominant root crop. One of the most striking foods in the markets, its tubers are so brightly colored—yellow, pink, red, purple, even candy striped—and their waxy skins are so shiny that they seem like botanical jewels or plastic fakes. Many are shaped like small potatoes but others are curiously long and curved like crooked sausages.1 ; Their skin is thin and soft and needs no peeling before eating. The white to lemon-yellow flesh has a smooth, silky texture with a nutty taste. Some types are gummy when raw, but in cooking, this characteristic is reduced or lost. Indeed, a major appeal of ulluco is its crisp texture, which remains even when cooked.

The future of ulluco (pronounced oo-yoo-koh) seems particularly bright. In the Andes, demand is on the increase, and its attractive tubers are likely to prove popular elsewhere. The plant is easy to grow, resists frost, is moderately drought tolerant, and produces reasonable yields in marginal soils.

Although it has attracted little modern agronomic attention, ulluco is one of the few Indian crops to have been enthusiastically accepted by those of Hispanic descent. This ancient tuber is now sold (usually under the name “papa lisa”) in modern packaging in supermarkets in Lima, Quito, Cali, and other big cities. Throughout the Andean region, it is considered a delicacy. It is one of the few native crops that is more widespread in the Andes now than it was 100 years ago; production is estimated to have doubled in just the past 20 years. In Peru in 1983, for example, more than 15,000 hectares were under cultivation; estimated production there is now more than 60,000 tons per year, and continues to increase. Around Cuzco, as well as in southern Colombia, ulluco is outranked only by oca, potatoes, and maize; near some urban areas, it is grown in almost every plot of suitable ground.

1 One of the bent types, splashed with maroon streaks, is known as “Christ's knee.” A small, pink, curled variety is called “shrimp of the earth.” A slightly curved yellow variety in Paucartambo is called “cradled baby.” The types with pink and magenta spots are sometimes called “pica de pulga” (flea bites) in Peru.

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