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Page 177

It is important to understand what controls the popping qualities. The unique properties that enable toasting are now unknown. They may include seed shape, inelastic seed coat, or the quality or quantity of stored starch.

A test is needed that can determine whether a certain round bean is in fact a nuña. At the moment, there is no certain recognition, and developing such a test is necessary both for the national marketing of the crop and for understanding the genetic control of the nuña's intrinsic characteristics.

A major step in promoting nuñas is obtaining basic information on the popped product. Analysis of nutrients and biochemistry of the


In the past, the few researchers who knew about nuñas were uncertain whether these popping beans could succeed outside the high Andes. They thought that the plant might grow only at high altitudes or equatorial latitudes. They also feared that the popping character of the beans might disappear even if the plant could be grown outside its equatorial highland home. In addition, some expressed the opinion that the capacity to pop might occur only in newly harvested and sun-dried seeds. Old nuñas, it is rumored in the Andes, will not pop.

Now, however, it seems that these fears are unfounded. In 1978, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (to replenish germplasm in its seed bank) grew 14-year-old nuñas successfully in Pullman, Washington. The site is in the temperate zone at a high latitude (47°N) and low altitude (200 m).

In 1988, Stephen C. Spaeth, a USDA researcher, tested some of the seeds and found that even after 10 years of storage (at 4°C) they had lost none of their popping characteristics—they showed good “nuña-ness” by exploding to double their size after only 90 seconds on a hot-air gun (see page 174). Indeed, these 10-year-old “temperate-grown” beans popped just as well as nuñas newly harvested in Colombia.

Although the nuñas plant is now well known only in a relatively small region of the world, these results suggest that in future it may become a widely available, nutritious, tasty, and fuel-conserving food. Only its requirement for short daylength seems likely to initially limit its spread.

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