FACTBOX-Space age spuds, menstrual beans and melon gold: Do you know these five rare foods?

by Alex Whiting | @AlexWhi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 18 August 2017 11:25 GMT

Tomatoes, potatoes and other vegetables are seen on a display for sell at a market in Lima, Peru April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

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In the 1400s the Incas used a freeze-dried potato product called chuño to feed officials, soldiers and labourers in their empire

ROME, Aug 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From freeze-dried potatoes first produced by the Incas, to melons worth thousands of dollars each, here are five rare foods - some of them endangered - produced by small communities who prize them for their nutritional value and taste:

MELON GOLD

Melons grown in the Japanese city of Yubari can fetch huge prices. Last year two Yubari melons were auctioned for 3 million yen ($27,000). The best ones are prized for their juicy sweetness, perfect spheres, extra smooth rind and T-shaped stalks. A standard Yubari melon sells for about $50 to $100.

ANCIENT FREEZE-DRIED POTATO

The idea of freeze-drying food did not start with space travel. In the 1400s the Incas used a freeze-dried potato product called chuño to feed officials, soldiers and labourers in their empire and as an emergency stock after crop failures.

Chuño is still made today in parts of the Andes. One method uses increasingly rare, bitter-tasting potatoes. They are left to freeze overnight, then trampled underfoot to remove water and skin, and dried in intense sunlight during the day. The process is repeated for about five days until the potatoes have completely dried out.

They can then be stored for years. When needed, they are soaked in water and cooked. Chuño is also used in traditional medicine to treat gastritis and ulcers.

ASH YOGURT

In the Kenyan county of West Pokot, a few families still produce yogurt mixed with the ash of the native cromwo tree. The ash acts as a disinfectant, and gives the yogurt a unique aromatic taste and bright grey colour.

The yogurt is made from cow's or goat's milk: cows for men, and goat's milk yogurt - which has an intense flavour and is recognised for its nutritional value - for women and children.

MENSTRUAL BEANS

The Wayuu peoples in Colombia live in a semi-desert environment which is very difficult to farm. There they manage to grow guajiro beans which have high protein content and are used to make a soup cooked with lamb fat and yellow corn, traditionally served to young women after their first menstrual cycle.

PEPPERY SALT

Communities in western Kenya historically cut off from the main salt routes have developed a distinctive method for extracting salt from river reeds.

Bunches of reeds are dried on stones, then heated on a slow fire for up to three days. The residual ash is mixed with water, filtered and boiled, leaving a pure salty mixture. It is packed into banana leaves and dried under hot ashes overnight.

Pepper is sometimes added, giving the salt a spicy flavour.

Sources: Japan Today, Slow Food, Smithsonian.com, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization

($1 = 110.8100 yen)

(Reporting by Alex Whiting @Alexwhi, Editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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