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Mauka 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. PROSPECTS Andean Region. On its merits, mauka would seem a candidate for introduction all along the Andes, where climates are similar to its ' This was discovered by J. Seminario C. In 1988 a detailed assessment of mauka cultivation in the Cajamarca area was made by S. Franco P. and J. Rodriguez C. Many of the facts they uncovered are incorporated in this chapter. 75
76 LOST CROPS OF THE INCAS native habitat. It is possible that it could blend into the agricultural and culinary habits of many highland groups, providing them with a new food that is nutritious, tasty, and productive. Other Developing Areas. · .. . . .. . Mauka seems worth testing in moun- ta~nous areas throughout the tropics. However, so little is known about this crop that as of now its future cannot be predicted. Exploratory experimental plots seem justified at this time, but anything beyond token trials should await further research in the Andes. Industrialized Regions. Mauka is native to an upland region with a cool climate. Thus, in principle, it could grow in North America, Europe, Japan, and other temperate zones. Trials are worth attempting, but its commercial viability is far from assured. Years of research may be needed before its requirements for daylength, maximum production, and daily use are understood. USES The edible parts are the upper part of the root and the lower part of the stem. These swollen thickened clumps, much like those of cassava, are usually boiled or fried and served as vegetables. When freshly harvested, the mauka roots grown in Bolivia contain an astringent chemical that can burn the lips and tongue. Exposing them to the sun, however, replaces the bitterness with a pleasant, sugary flavor. Traditionally, the sun-sweetened tubers are chopped, boiled, and mixed with honey or brown sugar and toasted grain. The combination makes a hearty meal, and the cooking water makes an especially flavorful drink. It is said that the mauka grown in Ecuador is not astringent. It is prepared in two ways: salty or sweet (de sal or de dulce). For salty mauka, the tubers are cleaned, cooked, and peeled, and then eaten immediately. To make sweet mauka, the stems and roots are layered with barley or mauka stems in a hollow in the ground for about a month, by which time the starches have largely hydrolyzed to sugars. Both salty and sweet forms are commonly mixed with syrup or molasses and eaten with tomatoes and fish (particularly sardines or tuna). Like other Mirabilis species in the Andes, mauka is used as a feed, mainly for guinea pigs. Animals consume it fresh or dried. (In feeding pigs and guinea pigs, the raw tubers, leaves, and stems are often mixed with corn and weedy vegetation.) People also consume the leaves in salads.
:.~..~: ~~ A= i _= 1 - ~ 77 ~ _ Mauka, one of the least known food crops in the world, is a traditional staple of the Maukallajta Indians. The starch-filled tubers are produced in sites where most potatoes and other root crops cannot survive. (S.D. Franco P.) NUTRITION Both the swollen stems and the roots are high in carbohydrates (87 percent on a dry-weight basis) with 7 percent protein (an appreciable amount for a root crop) and little fiber. Based on an evaluation of three separate ecotypes, mauka is richer than the other Andean tubers in calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. The leaves contain about 17 percent protein. The level of digestibility is said to be higher than that of the other forages that can be grown in the upland Andes. AGRONOMY Mauka is generally cultivated as an annual, although it has the enlarged stems and roots of a perennial. It is propagated by portions of stem or root, as well as by offsets (which develop during the second growing season). Seed is also sometimes used, and could be useful in breeding programs, in freeing the plant from any viruses that may be present, and in facilitating the introduction of mauka to new areas. The seed remains viable for several years. As the plant matures, the below-ground portion of the stem and the upper roots thicken into crowded clusters at and just beneath the soil surface. At harvest, the clumps are pulled up and the edible portions
78 LOST CROPS OF THE INCAS MAUKA AND THE INCAS ~ ECUADOR ,~ ~ BOUVIA \~g Cochabamba ) ~: The map of mauka's present production may tell much about the Inca system of subduing conquered peoples. Particularly when any of the empire's subjects became restless and portended trouble, the Inca rulers forcibly moved part of the group to a distant location and replaced them with loyal citizens. They were careful to move the tribe's plants as well, and to chose locations in which they would thrive. Mauka's present-day occurrence in three scattered locations perhaps results from the forced migration of people and plants from the Cajamarca region (known for its unrest in Inca times) to locations in today's Ecuador and Bolivia. W.H. Prescott beautifully described the ingenuity of the Incas' peace- keeping policy in his classic 1844 account, The Conquest of Peru. When any portion of the recent conquests showed a pertinacious spirit of disaffection, it was not uncommon to cause a part of the population, amounting, it might be, to ten thousand inhabitants or more, to remove to a distant quarter of the kingdom, occupied by ancient vassals of undoubted fidelity to the crown. A like number of these last was transplanted to the territory left vacant by the emigrants. By this exchange the population was composed of two distinct races, who regarded each other with an eye of jealousy, that served as an effectual check on any mutinous proceeding. In time, the influence of the well-affected prevailed, supported as they were by royal authority and by the silent working of the national institutions,
MAUKA 79 to which the strange races became gradually accustomed. A spirit of loyalty sprang up by degrees in their bosoms, and before a generation had passed away the different tribes mingled in harmony together as members of the same community. In following out this singular arrangement, the Incas showed as much regard for the comfort and convenience of the colonist as was compatible with the execution of their design. They were careful that the mitimaes, as these emigrants were styled, should be removed to climates most congenial with their own. The inhabitants of the cold countries were not transplanted to the warm, nor the inhabitants of the warm countries to the cold. Even their habitual occupations were consulted, and the fisherman was settled in the neighborhood of the ocean or the great lakes, while such lands were assigned to the husbandman as were best adapted to the culture with which he was most familiar. And, as migration by many, perhaps by most, would be regarded as a calamity, the government was careful to show particular marks offavor to the mitimaes, and, by various privileges and immunities, to ameliorate their condition, and thus to reconcile them, if possible, to their lot. broken off. In traditional cultivation in the cold, harsh uplands, the plant may take up to a year to reach harvest size. The longer it is left in the ground, the greater the yield; after 2 years, it may produce more than 50 tons per hectare. However, a normal yield seems to be about 20 tons per hectare. Commonly, mauka is interplanted with crops such as corn. Although sometimes planted in normal furrows, it is more often planted in shallow pits because the seedlings are somewhat delicate.2 LIMITATIONS So little is known about mauka that it has only recently been collected, grown in observation plots, and studied by agronomists. Practically nothing is understood of its potentials or vulnerabilities. For example, it may have restrictive environmental requirements or be susceptible to particular pests and diseases. In the Cajamarca area, however, the mauka plots are remarkably free of pests and diseases. (The major pest seems to be the larva of a fly or butterfly that penetrates the subterranean parts, causing the foliage to wither.) 2 Growing crops in pits is common in traditional Andean agriculture pits provide protection from winds and from chill creeping close to the ground, and they help collect and retain water.
80 LOST CROPS OF THE INCAS It is uncertain that the taste of the stems or tubers will prove widely appealing. The astringent effects of some types may hinder acceptance, but the selection of sweet types should eliminate this possibility. RESEARCH NEEDS Nearly everything remains to be done before this rustic crop's full potential can be characterized. Botanical investigations of the most basic kinds are needed. Because its cultivation is small scale, restricted to only a few areas, and declining, much genetic diversity has probably already been lost. Collections should be made to preserve the plant's variability. Seed should be conserved in germplasm banks. Variation among ecotypes should be sought and assessed; there is a particular need to find, multiply, and distribute elite genotypes. Among agronomic features to be studied are water requirements, daylength sensitivity, and cold tolerance. It is uncertain at present if tuberization is dependent on daylength, temperature, moisture, some other factor, or a combination of these. Complete studies of the nutritional qualities of all parts of the plant should be made. Amino acid analyses are particularly lacking. Also, the astringency should be studied. What causes it? Where is it found geographically? In what parts of the stems and tubers does it occur? How can it be eliminated? Also needed is more evaluation of the forage qualities of the foliage. SPECIES INFORMATION Botanical Name Mirabilis expansa Ruiz & Pavon Family Nyctaginaceae (four o'clock family) Common Names Aymara: mauka Pichincha (Ecuador): miso Cotopaxi (Ecuador): tazo Spanish: mauka, chagos, arricon, yuca inca, shallca yuca, yuca de la Jalca, pega pega, cushpe, arracacha de tore, camotillo English: mauka Origin. Although it didn't appear in the ethnobotanical literature until 1965, mauka is probably an ancient crop. Its wild ancestors are found in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia.3 3 Information from J. Rea, who recently found possibly wild relatives growing in Tunja, Colombia. Mauka presents an excellent opportunity for study by anthropologists, ethnobotanists, and others interested in the origins of cultivated plants.
MAUKA 81 Description. Mauka is a low, compact plant, not exceeding 1 m in height. The aerial part is a mass of foliage formed from the basal shoots. The stems are cylindrical, with opposite, ovoid leaves with reddish edges. Bolivian types seem to have uniformly purple flowers, but in Ecuador they range towards white. The inflorescences are terminal racemes covered with viscid hairs, to which small insects frequently become stuck. The thickened stems below ground are white, salmon colored, or yellow. They are commonly smooth and fleshy, about 5 cm in diameter and 50 cm in length. The growth takes place on the outer surfaces, and the structure of the stem becomes more regular toward the cream- colored center, which is high in moisture, full of starch grains, and contains little fiber. The form preferred in Cajamarca has yellow skin with cream-colored flesh. The color may depend on age, young tubers being yellow and older ones being white. Horticultural Varieties. There are no defined varieties, but there are different genotypes. In Bolivia, as noted, mauka has purple Bowers and astringent tubers. In Ecuador, a full gradient of flower color from purple to white may exist, and not all tubers are bitter. Environmental Requirements Daylength. Unknown. Rainfall. Mauka seems to survive in wet, cold areas as well as in seasonably arid regions. The limits of its moisture tolerance are unknown. However, in Cajamarca it thrives at 600-1,000 mm per year. Altitude. Reported from 2,200 to perhaps 3,500 m within the central Andes. However, it has not yet been tested at other elevations. Low Temperature. Unknown, although the plant may not be frost tolerant. heat. High Temperature. Unknown. The plant is probably sensitive to Soil. Not unexpectedly, mauka seems to yield best in loose, alluvial soils. The limits of its soil tolerances are unknown.