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Canned and preserved potatoes, a UN project with inter-institutional association and support. - Photo: personal file

“Papa criolla” will now be canned and naturally preserved

By: Agencia de Noticias UN

Work performed by UN, in conjunction with potato growers has come up with a genetic improvement of the potato so that it can be canned and naturally preserved, while still maintaining its primary characteristics.

Speaking with this news agency, Luis Ernesto Rodríguez, the academic secretary of the Faculty of Agronomy of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, explained that this project was multidisciplinary and had two distinct goals: a genetic improvement of the potato, and the industrial processing headed by Professor Aníbal Herrera, Director of the Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnología de Alimentos (ICTA) of UN.

This genetic exercise extends all the way to industrial production. It has been performed completely at ICTA and has several plans of action, one of them being the making of canned or glass pickled potato (papa criolla*). “The potatoes are cooked and bottled in a salt and vinegar solution. The benefit is that they have between 3 and 4 years of shelf life and still preserve their flavor, odor and texture characteristics. Furthermore, they can be exported to remote markets such as China and the rest of the Far East”, he adds.

“Starches are another planned product line for this interdisciplinary project with this resistant vegetable. We are also going to market mashed papa criolla, that unlike white mashed potatoes, will have organoleptic elements as well as better taste and texture properties, in addition to high zinc and beta–carotene contents”, he says.

The third proposed line are frozen foods. According to the researcher, “potatoes are pre-cooked and then quick–frozen with a thermal shock system. This type of freezing method maintains most of the color and taste features that make papa criolla so special, as well as its flour–like texture”.

Colombia is the first producer and exporter of papa criolla in the world. Annually, between 8,000 and 10,000 hectares of this potato are planted, generating a harvest of more than 1,000 tons. Although this amount may seem low, papa criolla went from being poor man’s clothes to being a tuxedo, in other words, from a popular Colombian grill setting (fritanguería) to international gourmet kitchen. Exports of papa criolla has found its own market niche and even more so now that free trade agreements are knocking on our doors, revealed Professor Rodríguez.

Most important of all was the cooperation between the lab and the field, as we had the assistance of the Nariño potato producing peasants (Nariño being the pilot Colombian province for the tests) and the producers union known as Fedepapa. In addition, we also had the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Horticulture and Fruit Association of Colombia (Asohofrucol, for its Spanish acronym).

The genetic process

The Professor indicated that the Genetic Improvement Program of the Faculty of Agronomy began in 2008, improving the variety of the papa criolla by means of scientific work. “It all started with the idea of achieving a more robust product which would be resistant to the diseases that affect potato crops, such as ‘potato blight’ (Phytophthora infestans) and the ‘yellowing vein’ virus, a disease linked to climate change and global warming”.

“As the production area temperature grows, so will the population of the white fly that transmits the disease. Almost all of the potato production areas (not only papa criolla, but all varieties) are already infected. First, we gathered disease ridden plants and introduced virus-clean white flies to feed on the leaves. Later, the infected flies were introduced to the genetically modified Colombian papa criolla plants. Afterwards we analyzed the data to determine which modified plants had genetic resistance to the disease”, he concluded.

*Andean yellow potato/creole potato

UN Periodico English 7