The Cuiba is an ancestral tuber of the central and north Andes between 3000 and 3900 meters above sea level, also known in other countries as the Oca. Their physical appearance is similar to a small, wrinkled carrot, can be in different colors, the most common of which are yellow, white and purple. In the moors it grows wild and can be found in red and orange.
Being rich in starch, it is a traditional crop substitute for potatoes. Although it takes longer to reach maturity, and therefore has a lower yield, it is more resistant to pests, thus ensuring stable production. the Cuiba measures between 20 and 30 cm. high, has succulent stems, trifoliate leaves and yellow flowers with 5 petals. The tubers measure 5 to 15 cm. long.
The cuiba was used by peasants from the Venezuelan moors as a part of their daily diet. They have a sweet taste and are slightly acidic. Locally, they can be eaten in all three daily meals. Children in these communities used to place the Cuibas on roof-tops of their houses during the day so they dehydrate and then eat them like candy.
During the expansion of the model of conventional agriculture in Venezuela, large companies came into to these communities offering genetically “improved” seeds of certain items. They took advantage of the poor economic situation of farmers, taking possession of their land and applying conventional farming techniques, thus poisoning the land with chemicals and imported seeds. This displaced many native seeds, disappearing from Conucos. There were only a small number of farmers left to market and exchange native seeds.
Today, interest is growing to rescue these small pieces of ancestral knowledge and help involve the community in getting to know about native seeds . It is important to address issues such as the rescue of peasant seeds and food sovereignty. Regarding the cuiba, we have worked for five years as a producer organization and with help of volunteers: Mano a Mano, Exchange Agroecológico.
Today, the Venezuelan diet is not so diverse as to include local products as part of regular meals. There are really very few age-old foods that fall within the Venezuelan cuisine pallet. Thus, it is important to include items again to enrich and rescue our ancestral culture.
One of the most important points of their rescue is eliminating the dependency model of conventional farming with chemicals and imported seeds. Cuiba can be easily managed with agroecological methods. Due to its versatility and pleasing appearance, like a carrot, it is very easy to get people accustomed to eating and preparing them. Another advantage is that they are hardy. They can last a long time without spoiling, up to 12 weeks when kept cool. This is an economically visible advantage over conventional vegetables.
There are many gastronomic uses for Cuiba. It is very versatile in many types of preparation and the methods used are becoming more accepted by the population, such as by the Mano a Mano Convivium and other communities in the moorland where efforts are being made to rescue it.
It can be eaten without cooking, its sweet and sour flavor makes it very addictive, very tasty as a companion to green salad. It can be baked, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and rosemary leaves, accompanied by Venezuelan native potatoes, excellent to accompany meats.
Grated cuiba in a simple cake of whole wheat flour, oats and other ingredients have been one of the most successful ways to include the cuiba as an alternative in Venezuelan cuisine. Prepared with traditional methods, such as reducing levels of processed margarine, refined sugar and milk, it is a favorite among children.
The cuiba can be fermented and sweetened with panela.
In a vegetable soup, chicken or beef soup, or liquefied, The cuiba gives a very tasty flavor to these foods.
In artisanal breads Cuiba represent a healthy alternative to the conventional bread and has attracted interest for its easy preparation and its unique flavor.