We Try Chicha Morada, a Purple Peruvian Power Potion


[Photo: Sam Hughes]

I first heard the word "chicha" a few years ago when the folks behind one of my favorite breweries, Dogfish Head, traveled to Peru and back to make their version of the traditional beverage. You might have heard of this stuff before: chewing and spitting out corn is part of the process of making some times of this traditional drink. Enzymes in human saliva turn the starches in the corn into fermentable sugars, ready for brewing.

Chicha morada, on the other hand, is not fermented, and is made by boiling purple corn with spices and pineapple rind. Of course, that process is probably adjusted a little to make the 16 ounce glass bottle of chicha morada that I have in front of me from Chicha Limeña. It looks pretty much like any other purple soft drink, though it's made with water, purple maize extract, pineapple, lemon, sugar cane, cinnamon, and cloves. The bottle features large lettering calling out the antioxidants and urging potential customers to "embrace the power of purple." Hey, I got nothing against purple. I'll embrace purple! That is, if the stuff tastes any good.

The aroma of this drink surprised me a bit. This isn't going to sound very poetic, but it actually smells purple. Not quite like grape, blueberry, or pomegranate...just purple. And though it comes in a soda bottle, this drink is not carbonated. I also noticed that the sugar content is 19 grams per eight ounce serving, with 73 calories, which is a bit less than your standard soft drink.

Unfortunately, though, the Chicha Morada from Chicha Limeña still manages to be a little too sweet and somehow dull. The whole experience is a muddled flavor: I would have loved a bit more tang or acidity from the pineapple or lemon, and while I get hints of the cinnamon and a touch of the clove, those flavors don't add the kind of depth or spice which really could have made this drink more interesting and unusual. And as far as I could tell, the purple maize extract doesn't add any discernible corn flavor, but perhaps just serves as a creative coloring agent.

While I was personally not a fan of the drink, and I would compare it to something like a purple version of the ubiquitous orange drink, I bet kids would love it. (I would have been really into this stuff as a kid, considering I really loved the generic "orange drink" I listed above.)

Perhaps I'm being a tad critical of something that's just supposed to be an easy-going thirst quencher. I'm also sure this is another case where a homemade version could be tailored to individual tastes (more corn, more clove, more cinnamon, less sugar for me), which might change my mind on chicha morada.

Have you tried Chicha Morada in a bottle? Or have you been lucky enough to try the real thing in Peru?

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