Chicha

woman-drinking-chicha
photo credit: kobby_dagan

About

The term Chicha refers to both fermented and unfermented corn-based drinks popular in Peru as well as other parts of South America. Like most of the drinks dating back to the Inca, chicha is easy to make, flavorful, nutritious and refreshing. The woman in the image at the top of the page is drinking a version of chicha morada, the version that uses beautiful deep purple corn. The unfermented beverage is made by simmering dried corn with water and spices (typically cinnamon, cloves and allspice) and piloncillo (dark, hard, brown sugar) . Once allowed to steep, the mixture is strained and chilled. Sometimes fresh chopped fruit is added before serving.

Chicha History

Corn was very important to the Inca culture and was used as food as well as the "wine" of the ancients. Chicha, “corn beer” was a very important part of any Inca feast. The brewing of the corn beer was considered such a sacred process that it was produced by “virgin priestesses”. To this day, women are the "brewers" in the culture.

On a nutritional note, the process of fermenting the corn made it more digestible and thus provided more nutritious "drink". The end result is similar to how the Aztecs soaked corn in wood ash (Cal) which rendered it easier to grind and more nutritious as well. 

purple corn kernels

Other Chicha Varieties

Each home, even today has a ceramic “chicha jar” used for making chicha (not all alcoholic). The unfermented, sweetened varieties of chicha are chicha blanca which is the white corn version with cinnamon, and chicha morada which is made from the purple corn and according to Betty Fussell “tastes like a strawberry milkshake”. There is even a “kicked up” version called chicha picante which is the basic corn brew with the addition of lemon and aji peppers.

urpu - chicha jarChicha Jar

The traditional jar for storing Chicha is called an "urpu" (see image top of page).  It has a long neck and is frequently adorned with decoration. According to Betty Fussell (The Story of Corn) "no one builds a house without putting a miniature bull and chicha jar on the roof,  for luck and life".

Chicha Morada Recipe

  • 2 cups dried purple corn kernels
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon of cloves
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 2 ounces piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Place corn, cinnamon and cloves and water in a large pot and bring the mixture to a boil.

Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for about 1 hour.  The flavor will improve with longer cooking, up to 2 hours.

Remove the mixture from the stove and add the piloncillo and stir until dissolved. Strain the liquid and refrigerate until well chilled. Serve over ice with a splash of lemon juice.

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.