It is rare that a new, domesticated food plant is discovered. Yet mauka (
Mirabilis expansa) is only just now coming to light. In the early 1960s, Bolivian scientist Julio Rea first announced to the outside world that it was an important food of the Maukallajta Indians in the high valleys north of La Paz, Bolivia. In the 1970s, he found it being cultivated also in a few areas of the cold, dry uplands of Ecuador, where it is called “miso.
” Then, in late 1987, mauka was found growing in several locations near Cajamarca, Peru.
Outside these three remote areas—all above 2,700 m but separated by hundreds of kilometers—mauka has gone untasted for centuries.
The neglect of this plant is unfortunate, for mauka (pronounced mah
-oo-kah) provides an abundance of succulent edible stems and tubers with an unusually high protein content. It is productive, cold tolerant, grows well at high elevations, and is relished by the local people who know it and grow it.
Mauka survives where constant winds and near-constant chill place heavy physical strain and moisture stress on plants. Other crops, including most varieties of potato, cannot withstand these harsh conditions.
Mauka appears to have the right qualities for a widely grown food. Its “tubers” can grow to be the length and diameter of a person's forearm. They are flavorful and have good keeping qualities. However, much study in the field and in the laboratory is needed before its potential can be understood.
Andean Region. On its merits, mauka would seem a candidate for introduction all along the Andes, where climates are similar to its