3 Feb 2014



Peru is known around the world for its potato and corn varieties. But did you know that for example the avocado and tomato have their origin in Peru as well? And the country 
is home to numerous other internationally nearly unknown vegetables. Most of them have been cultivated and consumed since ancient times being an important part of the 
traditional Peruvian cuisine. Additionally quite a few of these ancient veggies bring remarkable properties making local dishes not only super delicious but healthy as well. 
Peru has around 35 corn varieties. The most popular and most consumed is the Choclo, also known as maiz tierno or jilote. Choclo is a corn variety cultivated in Peru since 
ancient times. 

The seeds are bigger than the ones from the sweet corn often consumed in the US or Europe and white to creamy in color. While Choclo is one of Peru's staple foods, it 
never really became popular outside the country. Cooked on the cob Choclo often accompanies typical local dishes. It's also used in soups, rice dishes or pureed.People in 
what is now Peru were eating popcorn as early as 6,700 years ago, according to researchers. Telltale traces of their snacking habits ancient cobs, husks, stalks and 
tassels were recently unearthed at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two coastal sites that were once home to prehistoric settlements. A study based on the find appeared this 
week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. After examining the cobs, the researchers determined that the Peruvian sites’ ancient occupants didn’t only 
pop their corn: they also ground it into flour and may have cooked it in other ways as well. At this early stage of maize’s history, however, it didn’t represent a major 
component of their diet. This would change by the 12th century, when maize cultivation became vital to the Inca Empire’s rise and subsequent expansion across Peru. Corn 
was first domesticated from a wild grass in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago, according to study co-author Dolores Piperno, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum 
of Natural History. It then made its way across Central and South America, where hundreds of distinct maize types including the ancestors of sweet corn, which many 
people eat today arose. The cobs and other corn scraps found at Paredones and Huaca Prieta indicate a diversity of kernel shapes and colors, a sign that this process was 
already in full swing. “Our results show that only a few thousand years [after its domestication] corn arrived in South America where its evolution into different varieties that 
are now common in the Andean region began,” Piperno said. “This evidence further indicates that in many areas corn arrived before pots did and that early experimentation 
with corn as a food was not dependent on the presence of pottery.”

has been a staple food in the Andean regions of South America for many centuries, predating the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and existing long before the 
Inca Empire reached its peak. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega mentions cancha in his Comentarios Reales de los Incas, first published in 1609: “La zara tostada llaman camcha: 
quiere decir maíz tostado... Débese pronunciar con m, porque con la n significa ‘barrio de vecindad’ o ‘un gran cercado’” (“Toasted zara [corn] is called camcha: meaning 
toasted corn... You must pronounce it with m, because with n it means ‘neighborhood’ or ‘a great enclosure’”). Cancha is also included within González Holguín’s 
Diccionario Quecha-Castellano (Quechua-Spanish Dictionary) of 1608, as well as being mentioned in Advertencias, the chronicles of Spanish conquistador Juan Ruiz de 
Arce, published in 1545. As for the spelling, Inca Garcilaso’s insistence on the m didn’t stand the test of time. In Peru, the word cancha has become standard (despite its 
various alternate meanings, including “soccer field” and  sometimes confusingly “popcorn”). The word itself comes from Quechua, the second most spoken language in Peru, 
where it is written as camcha or kancha. In Ecuador and Bolivia, cancha is more commonly referred to as tostado or tostado de maíz (toasted corn).
People living along the coast of Peru were eating popcorn 2,000 years earlier than previously reported and before ceramic pottery was used there, according to a new paper 
in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences co-authored by Dolores Piperno, curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of 
Natural History and emeritus staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Some of the oldest known corncobs, husks, stalks and tassels (male flowers), 
dating from 6,700 to 3,000 years ago were found at Paredones and Huaca Prieta, two mound sites on Peru’s arid northern coast. The research group, led by Tom Dillehay 
from Vanderbilt University and Duccio Bonavia from Peru’s Academia Nacional de la Historia, also found corn microfossils: starch grains and phytoliths. Characteristics of 
the cobs the earliest ever discovered in South America indicate that the sites’ ancient inhabitants ate corn several ways, including popcorn and flour corn. However, corn was 
still not an important part of their diet. “Corn was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte,” said Piperno. “Our results show that 
only a few thousand years later corn arrived in South America where its evolution into different varieties that are now common in the Andean region began. This evidence 
further indicates that in many areas corn arrived before pots did and that early experimentation with corn as a food was not dependent on the presence of pottery.” 
Corncobs and kernels were not well preserved in the humid tropical forests between Central and South America, including Panama the primary dispersal routes for the crop 
after it first left Mexico about 8,000 years ago. “These new and unique races of corn may have developed quickly in South America, where there was no chance that they 
would continue to be pollinated by wild teosinte,” said Piperno. “Because there is so little data available from other places for this time period, the wealth of morphological 
information about the cobs and other corn remains at this early date is very important for understanding how corn became the crop we know today”

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