One of the unique uses of the potato in the Cordillera Blanca is Tocosh or “Togosh” in Quechua meaning “wrinkled”. It is an ancient Incan medicine made from fermented potatoes which produces penicillin-like properties, and was traditionally prescribed by Incan healers for infections, pneumonia, gastritis, hemorrhoids, and even strengthening women after child birth.
Being at a high altitude of over 3500m, the local Andean people have optimal conditions for the fermentation of the potatoes. Strategically placed next to fresh running water, a hole is dug into the ground and lined with straw making it look like an unusual nest, and allowing the fresh water to run through.
The small potatoes are dumped into the straw-lined hole, and covered with rocks to keep them in place and undisturbed for fermentation. The locals around us at the Lazy Dog Inn leave their Tocosh to ferment for 45 days, whereas other (click here) sources online state that the process can take up to two years. During this time the potatoes will begin to decompose and ferment, and the running water flowing through will wash away bacteria and sediment.
Time is the key to making Tocosh, as you must wait and let nature take care of the fermentation process. Once the required time has passed, the next step is removing the now soft, wet, and incredibly foul-smelling potatoes from their hole and letting them drain and dry for storage. The starchy potato inside the peel becomes soft and powdery.
Traditionally, the strong connection to Tocosh seems to override its intense odor and flavor. However, when foreign visitors first come across Tocosh it brings appreciable amounts of humor to the locals who get to watch their contorted expressions.
2. PAPA SECA
This unique use of the potato in the Cordillera Blanca is both very clever and extremely useful, and the Andean people have been using this technique since Pre-Incan times, enabling them to thrive in this harsh environment for so long.
Papa Seca which means “Dried Potato” is what is made by freeze-drying Huayro potatoes in the cold June-July nights. The process begins by either soaking the potatoes in cool stream water or boiling them, and then peeling and cutting them and laying them out to freeze when the temperatures dip below 0 overnight. The next morning, they will lay the potatoes under the hot Andean sun to dry all day, and when night comes to freeze once again. This process takes about 3-4 days to complete.
The result is solid, dry, crystalized pieces of potato which can be preserved for up to decades, making this technique key to the success of survival in the Peruvian Andes over the past several thousand years, and a profound way to preserve freshly harvested potato crops.
Papa Seca can also be known as Chuño or “Chuñu” in Quechua, and can be ground down into starchy flour which is used for a variety of dishes, drinks, and desserts. Papa Seca is available by the bag in most Peruvian Supermarkets, and is the main ingredient in the famous Peruvian dish Carapulcra, a hearty spiced meat and potato stew.
These two unique uses of the potato in the Cordillera Blanca are just two of the many ways the Andean people have found huge success in thriving in this particular environment for so long, and are indeed staples in the Andean culture. When you visit the Lazy Dog Inn Mountain Lodge you will have the chance to get connected with the rich and historical culture of the Cordillera Blanca, and perhaps meet a local who will let you taste their fermented Tocosh & freeze dried potatoes.
For more interesting information about potatoes in the Cordillera Blanca: https://thelazydoginn.com/what-you-didnt-know-about-the-potato/