Incan empire stretched the entire length of South America in the Andes and included virtually every type of environment imaginable. The Inca developed agricultural systems and plants that could grow in these diverse habitats and they were able to grow enough food to feed 15 million people with "primitive" technology and also have a 3 to 7 year surplus. They grew a diverse array of plants compared to "modern" systems of agriculture. The Conquistadors forced the Incas to switch to the use of "Western" plants such as wheat, barley, carrots, and broad beans.

The Incan foods included a dozen root crops, 3 grains, 3 legumes and more than a dozen fruits. These plants are still grown and sold in markets in the Andes by rural, Indian peasants. However, the whites and part-Indians are resistant to their use because they are "poor peoples' food".

Several of these crops were introduced to the rest of the world: potatoes, lima beans, peppers, and tomatoes. However, the majority of Incan crops are generally unknown outside the Andes.

Resistance to Incan cropts and agricultural methods has begun to lessen and there is movement in South American governments to take another look at these crops. The interest and research into these are in very preliminary stages for the most part and it is not clear how many of these plants, if any, will enjoy widespread acceptance. There are many barriers to overcome - adaptation of crops to climate, daylength, cultural bias, and diseases.

Achira - Canna edulis- Cannaceae, same genus as Canna lilies, fleshy roots contain starch with very large grains.

Ahipa - Pachyrhizus ahipa - Fabales - One of few legumes grown for roots. Similar to apples in crispness and is sweet. Roots retain sweetness when boiled.

Arracacha - Arracacia xanthorhizza - Apiaceae, resembles celery but produces roots with unique flavor.

Maca - Lepidium meyenii - Brassicaceae, Radish-like roots with sweet, tangy flavor. Local weed is Ledpdium virginicum - pepper grass.

Mashua - Tropaeolum tuberosum - Tropaeolaceae, easy to grow and can be stored in ground.

Mauka - Mirabilis expansa - Nyctaginaceae, fleshy roots that turn sweet when put in sun and then stored, like sweet potatoes.

Oca - Oxalis tuberosa - Oxalidaceae, 2nd only to potato in amount consumed, have firm white flesh.

Potatoes - Solanum species - Solanaceae, great amount of variability found in potatoes grown in Andes in color, flavor, nutrient content.

Ulluco - Ullucus tuberosus - Basellaceae, waxy skinned and brightly colored, prepared like potatoes.

Yacon - Polymnia sonchifolia - Asteraceae, tubers are white, sweet and juicy but nearly calorie-free. Stem is used like celery. Diet food?


Basul - Erythrina edulus - Tree with large edible seeds and other uses such as forage, erosion control, ornamental

Nunas - Phaseolus vulgaris - variety of common bean, bean equivalent of popcorn.

Tarwi - Lupinus mutabilis - high protein and oil content in seeds. Seeds are bitter but non-bitter varieties have been developed.


Capsicum spp. - peppers

Squashes - Cucurbita spp. -Cucurbitaceae, many useful members in the Andes.


Berries - Rubus,Vaccinum, Myrtus

Capuli cherry - Prunus capuli

Cherimoya - Annona cherimola - Annonaceae, grown commercially in Spain and S. California, fruits have unique flavor.

Goldenberry - Physalis peruviana - Solanaceae, used to make jams.

Highland Papaya - Carica- Cariaceae, may allow growth of papaya-like fruits in cooler regions.

Lucuma - Pouteria lucuma - Sapotaceae, dry fruits with high starch content, can be stored for years when dried.

Narajilla - Solanum quitense, used to produce juice

Pacay - Inga spp. - Fabales, produces pods with soft, white, sweet pulp - ice cream beans.

Passsion fruits - Passiflora - Passifloraceae, used as flavoring.

Pepino - Solanum muricatum, tastes like a sweet melon.

Tamarillo - Cyphomandra betacea - Solanaceae, trees that produce tomato-like fruits.


Quito palm - Parajubaea cocoides, Palmae, fruits are small and taste like coconuts.

Walnuts - Juglans neotropica, Juglandaceae, timber and nuts.

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