Eat Ecuador #2 – All Things Potatoes in Ecuador

Read about this series here: the Eat Ecuador Food Series

350 Varieties of Potatoes in Ecuador

Potatoes in Ecuador is a big topic. It’s said that the Andes mountains are home to over 4000 types of potatoes. They were first grown in Peru, just north of Lake Titicaca, 8000 years ago.

In Ecuador it is estimated that there are about 350 varieties, but only 14 are commonly found in the markets.

Most potatoes in Ecuador are grown at 3000 meters above sea level or higher where they have to deal with drought, low fertility soils, frost – but because the conditions are harsh farmers generally don’t have to use pesticides on them.

Worldwide, potatoes are one of the most important crops – the third most important after rice and wheat – but in Ecuador where they can grow almost anything potatoes aren’t as hugely popular as you would think. Per capita, Ecuadorians consume around 25 kg per year – about a half kilo per person per week, or around 70 grams a day.

In Ecuador, potatoes are classified into 2 groups: Native and Improved.
The difference is that native have been created through more natural process like selective breeding, while the improved varieties use genetics to make potatoes that have a higher yield potential, are disease resistance, and/or other traits that make them good for cooking.

Potato dishes in Ecuador

cuero con papa
Cuero con papa aka pig skin with potatoes.
  • Locro de Papa

    A hearty, potato-based soup made with cheese and avocado. In the video I eat a version with meat in it, but normally this is a vegetarian dishes. Ecuador is known for its menu of the day specials that include a soup, a main, a dessert, and usually some fresh juice. I usually eat this dish as the first course of a menu of the day, but it’s hearty enough to be a full meal. I love it cause it’s simple – traditional ingredients combined in the right proportions. The potatoes used usually include papa Chola (which makes it nice and thick), but hardcore fans will tell you that it isn’t locro de papa unless at least three different types of potatoes are used. The only flavors used to cook it are onions, chilis, maybe garlic, annatto seeds, milk, and possibly some cilantro. However, fresh cheese and avocado is usually placed on top of the thick stew. You might get some regional varieties that add peanut paste, maybe some seafood on the coast, or maybe some corn. The dish is believed to have been invented in the province of Pichincha, which is where Quito is. It pre-dates Spanish colonization.

  • Papas con cuero

    Literally ‘Potatoes with leather’, this is pig skin stewed until super soft and then potatoes are cooked in the rich broth. While the dish isn’t super old, it is an indigenous recipe. The Spanish brought pigs to South America on their second voyage over, however they didn’t use the skin – they threw it away. The indigenous people saw this as a waste and created this dish from it. A dish this high in calories isn’t something you’ll want to eat everyday. It’s very much a blue collar working man’s dish.

  • Salchipapas

    This is student food in Ecuador. Salchipapa places will be packed when the students get out from school. It’s a cheap and tasty snack – simply french-fries and a deep-fried sausage or hotdog. The name comes from the words “salchicha” (sausage) and “papa” (potato). The whole thing is covered in ketchup, mayo, or a combination of both. In fact, salsa rosada is a popular condiment in Ecuador. It’s simply ketchup and mayonnaise mixed. Sometimes it’s called salsa golf which is the Argentinian name for it because it was invented in a Golf course club house. The dish actually originated in Lima, Peru, but it’s popular in Bolivia as well. It’s the ultimate after bar snack or if you just want to abuse yourself after a long day.

  • Tamal de papa

    Tamales aren’t really an Ecuadorian thing, but they date back to the Mayan and Aztec times, so they’ve had plenty of time to spread across South America. While you can get the typical Mexican kind, the Ecuadorians have their own version called a humita. It’s similar – made from corn – but were talking potatoes. The potato tamale is potato puree with meat or veg and steamed in a banana leaf. I believe it originated in Guatemala.

Testing 6 Varieties of Potatoes in Ecuador


After a quick stop at a potato stall in Inaquito Market (my favorite market in Quito), I had a bagful of potatoes – 6 varieties! I took them home to compare their looks, shape, texture, and taste.

6 varieties of potatoes in Ecuador
From left to right: 1) Leona negra, 2) Cecelia, 3) Capiro, 4) Unica, 5) Chaucha, 6) Chola.

  1. Leona negra

    The name means ‘black lioness’. It’s best served stewed, fried, or steamed. It has dark red-purple skin and yellow-ish flesh with a few purple spots in it.
    Because they are smaller potatoes, the yield is quite low: 12 tons per hectare.

  2. Cecilia

    This potato is similar to the white potato varieties that I grew up with in Canada. They’re probably the second most popular potato in Ecuador. One good reason for this is their versatility – steam them, boil them, bake them, put them in soups like the locro de papa I ate, use them to make tortillas, mashed potatoes, or process them into potato flakes. Cecilia potatoes are an improved variety of potato. It was first released in 1981, but in 2011 the seed was altered and improved. They grow at altitudes of 3000 meters, and you can get about 30 tons per hectare, which is a large amount for a small potato.

  3. Capiro

    This is a sturdy, hard flesh potato that works great in soups, and potato salads. It’s hardness also allows it to adjust to industrialization processes. They’re most often turned into potato flakes and fries.
    This variety is harvested every four months, and you can get about 40 tons per hectare. They grow at an extensive range of altitude – from 1800 to 3200 meters.

  4. Unica

    This variety originated in Colombia. It was developed in 1995. Growing it is a breeze because it requires less fertilizer than traditional varieties and the yield is excellent at 40 tons a hectare.
    It’s a large potato, so it’s great for french fries. In fact, Ecuador developed its own version of this potato and they call it fripapa – a combination of the words potato and fried.

  5. Chaucha

    This is one of the more unique potatoes on the list. It’s skin is thin and it has deep eyes. The flesh is yellow and its texture is quite floury. This is a good potato for soups, or as a side dish with some meat. It’s also one of the more healthy potatoes with a decent amount of potassium (2103mg/100g), iron (10.1mg/100g), and zinc (2.5mg/100g). It also contains vitamins A, B and C. However, its yield is quite low at 14 tons per hectare.

  6. Chola

    This is Ecuador’s most popular potato. It’s used in soups, mash, and can be fried. It’s starchy with a pink-red skin and a pale yellow to white flesh. It’s a native variety, but there is also an improved variety called the super chola.

  7. Russian Potato Salad Recipe (Ecuadorian style)

    This easy to make potato salad is known in Ecuador as “ensalada Rusa” (Russian salad). It was brought over by Spanish and Italian immigrants. I kind of love that about this. It’s based on a Russian recipe that was adapted by the Spanish and then altered in Ecuador. It should be called the “international salad”. It can easily be adapted with pretty much whatever vegetables you want. Instead of straight up mayonnaise, I’ve used a rosada sauce (“pink sauce”), which is a mix of mayo and ketchup. It’s a popular sauce for french fries in South America and I think it goes well with the potato salad.

    Ingredients

    • 4 large potatoes – you can use whatever variety you have available, but if you’re in Ecuador try papa Capiro, a very hard potato that works really well with this dish.
    • 1 lb of carrots
    • 1 cup of fresh peas
    • 1 cup of diced celery
    • 1 large green apple diced
    • 1 cup diced white onion
    • Lime juice from 1 lime
    • 1 garlic clove diced
    • Rosada Sauce
    • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
    • 2 tbs of ketchup
    • A squeeze of lime juice
    • 2 pinches of ground cumin
    • A few dabs of hot sauce
      • Peel the potatoes and quarter them. Peel the carrots. Boil both until soft, but not mushy (about 8 minutes for the carrots and 15 minutes for the potatoes).

        Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl, then set aside.

        When the potatoes and carrots are done, chop them into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl.

        Boil the fresh peas for 3 minutes and then drain and place in the bowl with the potatoes and carrots.

        Add the rest of the ingredients (onions, celery, lime juice, apple, and garlic) and pour the rosada sauce over it all. Mix until everything looks muy bueno.


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        The Music in this video is made by Clueless Kit and Eric Reprid. You can find the song “Blitz” and their other great music on their Soundcloud pages: Eric Reprid -and- Clueless Kit