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Sharing The Peruvian Table

Potatoes and Edible Clay: A surprising but practical combination

By James B. Young

Visitors to the Peruvian Andes may be surprised to find their potatoes and other foods served with clay sauce.  Stifle your gag reflex.  It’s not such a bad idea. 

Aymaralunch_4162_1Clay consumption has been practiced by Andean people for centuries, and may have come about from observation of animal behavior.  The Peruvian parrot, among other animals, regularly eats certain types of clay.  Scientists now believe that the clay absorbs and neutralizes natural toxins in their diets. Observing this behavior may have led humans to give it a try.
Quechuaman_1940_1It must have worked, because even today Andean people carry little balls of clay, which when dissolved in water, can be used to cure “sick stomach.” Edible clay was so important to the ancient Incas that it was used to pay ransoms and carried along when fleeing from the Spanish.
What’s in the clay that made it so effective?  Credit is given to the absorbent quality of its main ingredient, kaolin, also known as “China clay.” Until the early 1990s kaolin was the active ingredient in the anti-diarrhea medicine Kaopectate. Kaolin is still used in ceramics, medicine, coated paper, paints, inks, toothpaste, cosmetics, and as a light diffusing material in white incandescent light bulbs.  
Img_4151-1So the next time you’re in the Andes and are asked “Would you like clay sauce with that?” you might consider saying, “Yes.”   A healthy dollop might just save your vacation.

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