Human Ecology

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 437–452

Taste evaluation of potato glycoalkaloids by the Aymara: A case study in human chemical ecology

  • Timothy Johns
  • Susan L. Keen

DOI: 10.1007/BF00888308

Cite this article as:
Johns, T. & Keen, S.L. Hum Ecol (1986) 14: 437. doi:10.1007/BF00888308


A chemical ecological model can be the basis for defining testable hypotheses concerning human interactions with plants. Selection by Aymara subsistence cultivators against toxic glycoalkaloids in the ongoing domestication of the Bolivian potato cultigen Solanum X ajanhuiriwas used as a specific case study of human interactions with phytochemicals. In taste perception tests, Aymara subjects were able to discriminate between concentrations of pure glycoalkaloids in solution only above 20 mg/100 ml. Taste panel tests of potato clones indicated that glycoalkaloid levels are important to the Aymara in determining quality only as part of a decision-making process involving two character states: too high or acceptable. Glycoalkaloids in potatoes are regarded as toxic to humans above 20 mg/100 g fresh weight. Among the Aymara, a breakpoint in the curve for glycoalkaloid preference appears to occur between 20–38 mg/100 g. This distinction is evident in the Aymara potato taxonomy which distinguishes bitter (luq'i ch'oke) from nonbitter (ch'oke) potatoes.

Key words

chemical ecologyglycoalkaloidspotatoestaste perception

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy Johns
    • 1
  • Susan L. Keen
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Biological Sciences and Museum of AnthropologyUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor
  2. 2.Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of MichiganAnn Arbor