Chicha, Traditional Spit-fermented Amazon Corn Beer

For many travelers around the world, one of the most important parts of getting to know a new country and its culture is to try the local drink.

From wine in France to sake in Japan, vodka in Russia, and beer in the UK, you wouldn’t really know a country without tasting its alcoholic products.

In the case of Amazon, the drink in question is chicha, a fermented or non-fermented beverage normally made from corn or cassava.

History

Chicha is not a single homogenized beverage; There are variations specific to each region, country, and group. In addition, traditional chicha can be made with different ingredients other than corn, such as cassava (cassava), wild fruits, cacti, and potatoes.

There is evidence of early pottery in the Andean region around 5000 BC. Archaeologists who have examined the sites say the vessels were likely used to transport and store chicha. The beverage is also important for social aspects – chicha like cocoa has become a cultural indicator for many Andean groups. It inspired songs, rituals, festivals, and ultimately social division.

Regions

There are a number of regional varieties of chicha that can be divided into roughly lowland (Amazonia) and numerous highland varieties. Commonly found regions; Amazonia, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela.

Preparation

Chicha de Jora is a corn beer made by germinating corn, removing malt sugars, boiling the must, and traditionally fermenting it in large containers for several days in large clay pots.

Usually, the brewer makes large quantities of chicha and uses most of these clay barrels to make it. These barrels deteriorate easily and can only be used a few times. Brewers can arrange their containers in rows with a fire in the middle to reduce heat loss.

The process of making chicha is essentially the same as that of malted barley beer. It is traditionally made with Jora corn, a type of malted corn from the Andes. The particular type or combination of corn used in making Chicha de Jora indicates where it was made. Some add quinoa or other excipients to it for consistency; then it is boiled. During the boiling process, the chicha is stirred and aerated to prevent excessive boiling. Chancaca (like sugarcane), a hard candy, helps the fermentation process. Other ways to make chicha involve people chewing the corn and then spitting it into the water and allowing the mixture to ferment for a few weeks.

After the corn has been ground and the beverage has been brewed, the chicha is sifted. It is traditionally sifted through a large cloth. This is to separate the corn from the desired chicha.

In some cultures, instead of germinating the corn to release the starches in it, the corn is ground, moistened in the mouth of the chicha producer, and then formed into small balls that are flattened and laid to dry. Naturally occurring ptyalin enzymes in the producer’s saliva catalyze the breakdown of starch in maize into maltose. These chewy grains or other starches were used in the production of alcoholic beverages in pre-modern cultures around the world, including sake in Japan for example. Chicha prepared in this way is known as chicha de muko.

Chicha Morada is an unfermented chicha made from the ears of purple corn (maĆ­z Morado), usually boiled with pineapple peel, cinnamon, and cloves. This gives a strong purple-colored liquid that is then mixed with sugar and lemon. This drink is often taken as a drink, but in recent years, purple corn has found many health benefits. Chicha Morada is common in Bolivian and Peruvian cultures and is often drunk with food.

Women are most associated with chicha production. Men and children are still involved in the chicha making process, but women control the production and distribution. For many women in Andean society, making and selling chicha is an important part of their identity because it provides a significant amount of political power and pressure.

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