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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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mauka Mirabilis expansa, a food plant which had some importance in the Inca empire but was then ‘lost’ until it was discovered in the 1960s to 1980s that it was still in use as a foodstuff in three widely separated localities in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.

The edible stems and tubers have a high protein content. The tubers can be grown to the size of a human forearm, and have a pleasing flavour. The experience of the Maukallajta Indians of Bolivia, for whom the plant is a staple food, suggests that it has considerable potential.

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.