Oca Cherry Red Potatoes
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Cherry Red oca have an appearance similar to that of a wrinkled fingerling potato, cylindrical and petite growing on average to be between 1 and 6 inches in length. Their signature feature is their exterior skin which is lined with vertical indentations running the length of the tuber. Oca tubers are available in varying shades of red, pink, yellow, orange and purple. As their name suggests the Cherry Red oca has a vibrant rosy red skin and waxy sheen lined with indentations of black. When first harvested the Cherry Red oca offers a sweet and sour taste. If allowed to sit in the sun a few days to weeks after harvest its glucose levels will nearly double and it will take on a notably sweeter flavor. When cooked they are similar in texture to that of potato or carrot and will develop a slightly nutty flavor. The leaves of the Cherry Red oca plant are edible as well and offer a taste similar to sorrel with sour nuances of lemon, not surprising given their botanical family of Oxalidaceae aka wood sorrels.
In locations that experience harsh winters, Cherry Red oca should be harvested in the fall, in milder climates they can be harvested in the winter and even spring months.
The Cherry Red oca, botanically classified as part of Oxalis tuberosa is a member of the Oxalidaceae family. Botanically speaking the oca is not a potato, rather a tuber of the wood sorrel family. There are hundreds of different oca varieties to be found in its native home of the Andes, though, in recent decades genetic diversity there has been decreasing. A documentation of the breadth of native Andean oca varieties known as “The Coleccion de Ocas” is kept at Cusco, Peru. Outside of South America, New Zealand is the only country growing oca commercially today. Oca are however beginning to grow in popularity around the world as a specialty crop and are celebrated for their vibrant colors, unique appearance, and high plant yields.
Cherry Red oca tubers have a nutritional content similar to that of potatoes offering dietary fiber and carbohydrates. Cherry Red ocas also contain a significant amount of vitamin C and iron as well as trace amounts of niacin, riboflavin, and phosphorus. Similar to spinach, rhubarb and garlic oca tubers contain oxalic acid which is responsible for the slightly sour flavor of the oca. The red and pink varieties are thought to contain the highest levels when compared to other colored oca. For some people, large amounts of oxalic acid can cause a tingling feeling in the mouth or interfere with mineral absorption and lead to kidney stones. For those on low oxalic acid diets exposing the oca to sunlight for several days after harvesting can aid in reducing oxalate. Additionally, since most of the oxalates are contained in the skin removing the skin prior to cooking should help reduce levels as well.
Red oca tubers can be utilized in many applications where one would use petite potatoes. They can be roasted, boiled, steamed, sautéed, microwaved, and fried. However unlike potatoes, the oca can be eaten raw, preferably after having spent some time letting its sugars develop in the sun post-harvest. Raw Cherry Red oca tubers can be sliced and seasoned or grated and incorporated in salads, sandwiches or salsas. Cooked Cherry Red oca are perfectly sized and textured for warm and cold salads (similar to potato salad), or as a topping for flatbread and pizza. They can be added to soups, curries, chili and stews or served simply with butter and salt as a mash. When fried they make excellent chips or fries. The high dry matter content of oca also makes them a viable source for making starches or alcohol. The shoots and leaves of the oca plant can be used as a salad or cooking green and will impart a sharp lemon flavor to preparations, and the thick stems can be used as a substitute for rhubarb in pies. To store keep Cherry Red oca in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator or keep on the counter in a cool, dry location.
In Andean cuisine oca are a staple foodstuff and commonly added to soups and stews. In Ecuador sweetened oca dried slightly in the sun are preserved in syrup and used to make jams and marmalades. Colombians are known to use oca in puddings, cakes, omelet like egg preparations, and to make an alcoholic beverage known as chicha de oca. In Mexico oca are known as papa extranjera and are served sprinkled with salt, lemon juice and chili pepper. In New Zealand, oca are marketed under the misleading name of New Zealand yam and most popularly are served cooked alongside roast meats such as lamb.
Native to South America the oca has long been an important crop of the Andean people and is believed to predate the Incas. Oca made their way to Mexico in the 1700’s and to Europe and New Zealand in the mid 1800’s. While the oca experienced a small degree of popularity in Europe, it was in New Zealand where it would find its greatest commercial success outside of South America. It is grown so extensively in New Zealand today that oca have come to be known by many people as New Zealand yams and in New Zealand simply as yams. In Bolivia and Peru the oca is still today a key crop in providing nutrition and food security and next to potatoes is the second most widely grown crop there. Oca are grown in a fashion similar to that of potatoes with the tubers of the plant supporting its aboveground shoots and leaves. Oca are grown by planting the whole tubers rather than seeds and once acquired are fairly easy to grow thriving in full sun with limited frost exposure.
Recipes that include Oca Cherry Red Potatoes. One is easiest, three is harder.
|He Needs Food||New Zealand Yam & Brussels Sprout Gratin|
|Chef In You||Fried (Oca) Potato Rice|
|Simmer Stock||Oca Salad with Capers and Cornichons|
|Permaculture||Warm Oca Salad|
|Clean Eating in Texas||Red, Yellow, & Orange Potatoes|