You say native potato, I say yes please!

By Jazid Contreras Vergel January 24, 2017
native potato Colombia

The variety of native potato species available in Colombia is amazing.

From industrially produced crisps to fancy dishes in restaurants, Jazid Contreras looks into the rising appeal of native potato species that have existed for millennia around the city.

Surprisingly, most shops only sell three types of potato; the popular pastusa, sabanera and criolla. But this is the Andes, home to hundreds of native potato species that many of us have never even heard of.

Wandering through your local grocery store you might have noticed that Bogotá offers a very diverse collection of fruits and vegetables, some of which only exist in the unique climate of the altiplano cundiboyacense.

In the rural areas of Bogotá, farmers are producing dozens of rare varieties with long, twisted or bumpy shapes and unusual pigmentations like deep purple, bright fuchsia or blood red. Some have colourful streaks forming psychedelic patterns inside the pulp.

“The coloured parts of the potato are rich in antioxidants,” says chef Óscar René González, owner of the recently opened 60 Nativas, a restaurant in Chapinero that aims to “bring a piece of the countryside to the city.”

González created a menu that features 60 different types of potato, which are just as tasty and nutritious as the more common ones. Some strains have quirky names like bull’s blood, girlfriend’s kiss, skull, purple screw and little eyes. “The names were coined by the farmers and indigenous people of these lands,” he explains.

The down-to-earth chef is known on social media as the “potato guy”. During the process of launching his eatery, he encountered other restaurant owners interested in following his passion. Working closely with a farmer in Boyacá, they were able to start selling native potatoes as well as exploring other opportunities. “In Colombia we have a gigantic pantry and we haven’t realised it yet. We have to use it, exploit it,” he declares.

Even though these kinds of potato aren’t widely available, they represent an interesting economic opportunity which means there’s a growing interest in cultivating them.

In 2012, a governmental initiative formed by Sena, Corpoica, Secretaría Distrital de Desarrollo Económico and Universidad Nacional, was created with the intention of turning some of these species into a marketable product that would help support rural families and, at the same time, diversify the market.

The programme, dubbed Corredor Tecnológico Agroindustrial Bogotá y Cundinamarca, is already bearing fruit. After years of research and development with multiple farms located around the outskirts of the city, the group have documented everything you need to know, including fertilization techniques, quality standards, clean materials and efficient production lines. They have already launched their first product: ‘Ancestrales’, a brand of crisps made from ten different native potato species and built around a sustainable business model.

According to Ingritts Marcela García, one of the leaders of the initiative, they are now looking for strategic partners to get a wider market for these speciality potatoes. Now that the group has put down its roots, they want to make this classic ingredient a regular on the menus of the city’s sophisticated restaurants. For example, Casa San Isidro on Monserrate buys produce from a farm located on the other side of the same mountain and has incorporated some native potatoes into their menu.

If you’re interested in being part of Bogotá’s potato revival, check out 60 Nativas or Casa San Isidro. Or if you are brave enough to try and cook them at home, dig around and ask about the different species next time you’re at paloquemao or a local farmer’s market. And keep an eye out for the Ancestrales crisps this year, they are currently looking for retail partners, and we are sure they will succeed – who can go wrong with sustainable, luxury crisps made from native potatoes?

Where to find them:
60 Nativas
Carrera 7 #51a 18 Local 102
Casa San Isidro
Cerro de Monserrate, Carrera 2 Este