It never takes long before a new arrival to Peru comes face to face with chicha morada. Their first question is almost always, “What is it?”
It’s the deep mauve color that so impresses foreigners. Peruvians make the drink by boiling purple-black corn with pineapple rind, cinnamon, and cloves for an hour or more. After it cools, they add lime juice and sugar (or chancaca, a raw, unrefined sugar used in traditional sweets). Vendors in restaurants, street stalls, and markets serve large glasses of the chilled beverage for around 50 cents or less. Varieties of chicha can be found throughout South America, and some such as chicha de jora, contain alcohol. But “morada” denotes an alcohol-free, highly refreshing experience.
While fans say that the homemade version is pleasant and fruity with a comforting spiciness, critics complain that artificial renditions are too syrupy and sweet. Today, corporations sell chicha morada in powdered sachets, liquid concentrate (just add water and lime juice), and mass-produced bottles—none of which, of course, are as tasty or nutritious as a batch of the fresh stuff.
In ancient times, this regal corn brew was considered much more than a simple thirst-quencher. Chroniclers write that South Americans boiled the cobs to make medicine and used it in rituals, annual celebrations, and divine offerings. Eventually, chicha became a popular drink. Centuries later, studies show that the purple corn may, indeed, have medicinal qualities such as anti-inflammatory benefits and reduced risk of certain cancers.
Need to Know
Chicha morada is popular in Peru and available in restaurants, street stalls, and markets.