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The more widespread ulupica is Capsicum eximium, found between about 1,400 and 2,800 m in the drier, cooler parts of Bolivia, northern Argentina, and parts of Paraguay. It may reach 2 m in height, and its small (6 mm diameter) fruits are round, red, and fiery. They are frequently bottled or pickled. The natives like this ulupica so much that they often encourage it to grow, even though it is basically a weed.

The other ulupica (C. cardenasii)8 is known only from the Andean sierra of Bolivia. It can be found at elevations between about 2,600 and 2,900 m, and may be cultivated in certain places. The exceptionally pungent fruits are found in markets in La Paz.9 They are sometimes boiled and diluted with water (to reduce their bite), and then preserved in oil and vinegar and used as pickles. Also, the boiled fruits are dried and ground with tomatoes to make a very popular, aromatic condiment.

Two other wild species, C. chacoense of northern Argentina and Paraguay (locally called “covincho”) and C. tovarii of Peru (called “mukúru”) are even less well known, but they, too, are used locally. C. chacoense seems to have the advantage of being extremely drought tolerant. It is found between 1,450 and 2,200 m elevation.

Although the wild peppers seem to be in the process of domestication, they still lack certain qualities for widespread commercial success. For example, the fruits are small and tend to fall from the plants if touched or jarred. Also, they ripen rapidly and become soft soon after being harvested.10

PROSPECTS

The Andes. Peppers are already common in the Andean diet and their use is widespread, but there is nonetheless ample opportunity to select better growing and more diverse varieties. Moreover, the use of peppers (particularly the pungent types) in prepared foods could increase with expanded industrialization and export markets.

The five cultivated species are all highly variable in plant type, fruit type, pungency, and degree of adaptation. Wild and primitive cultivars undoubtedly contain useful sources of resistance to viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases, as well as nematodes, in addition to possessing desirable culinary qualities. Also, genes for greater environmental


8 This scientific name, by P.G. Smith and C.B. Heiser, honors Martín Cárdenas, one of the foremost authorities on Andean food crops and botany (see dedication to this report). This ulupica is little known—the original scientific specimen was bought by Cárdenas in a La Paz market in 1958.
9 The pungency in peppers is due to capsaicin (see sidebar), and research has shown that ulupicas have 4,000–5,000 units of capsaicin, a very high number. Information from G. Veliz.
10 Information from G. Veliz.


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