were some of the greatest plant cultivators in the world. Maize from Mesoamerica and potatoes from the Andes were some of their contributions to the European diet. To getthe highest yield from their crops, the Incas used terracing and irrigation methods onhillsides in the highlands. Building terraces meant that they could use more land for cultivation, and also help to resist erosion of the land by wind and rain. Maize was thecentral food in the diet along with beans and squash. The inhabitants of the Andeanregion developed more than half the agricultural products that the world eats today.Among these are more than 20 varieties of corn; 240 varieties of potato; as well as one or more varieties of squash, beans, peppers, peanuts, and cassava (a starchy root). Quinoa(in the language of Incans, means “mother of cereals”)is a cereal grain is a cropdomesticated in the high plains area around lake Titicaca.By far the most important of these was the potato. The Incas planted the potato,which is able to withstand heavy frosts, as high as 15,000 feet. At these heights the Incascould use the freezing night temperatures and the heat of the day to alternately freeze anddry the potatoes until all the moisture had been removed. The Incas then reduced the potato to a light flour. They cultivated corn up to an altitude of 13,500 feet and consumedit fresh, dried, and popped. They also made it into an alcoholic beverage known assaraiaka or chicha.Put this in a sidebar or boxThe manioc
tuber, or cassava root, was another important staple of the natives.This carbohydrate-rich food that was easy to propagate but difficult to process, at least for the bitter variety, which is poisonous when raw. To detoxify manioc, the tubers had to be peeled and grated and the pulp put into long, supple cylinders—called
—made of woven plant fibers. Each tube was then hung with a heavy weight at the bottom, whichcompressed the pulp and expressed the poisonous juice. The pulp could then be removed,washed and roasted, rendering it safe to eat. The product was a toasted, coarse meal or flour known as
farinha de mandioc.
. Starch settling out from the extracted juice washeated on a flat surface, causing individual starch grains to pop open and clump together into small, round granules called tapioca. The extracted juice, boiled down to remove the poison, was used as the basis of the sauce known as
Manioc meal became manythings in the hands of the Indian women. Pulverized meal was mixed with ground fish to produce a concoction called
For the children, small, sun-dried cakescalled
were prepared. There was a porridge or paste known as
and thin,crisp snacks called
made of either tapioca flour or dough from a non-poisonous, or sweet variety of manioc known as
. These sweet manioc tubers, whichare somewhat fibrous but considerably easier to prepare, were also pared, boiled for several hours to soften them and eaten like potatoesBy the 16
century, rumors of gold and other riches attracted the Spanish to thearea. Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro explored south from Panama,reaching Inca territory. It was clear that they had reached a wealthy land with prospectsof great treasure, and after one more expedition in 1529, Pizarro travelled to Spain andreceived royal approval to conquer the region and be its viceroy.