Peru is a country where many of the sacred foods of the incas were created in the ancient andean laboratories, through the massive genetic modifications maded by the pre-inca cultures, and visitors exploring this diverse country will find a wonderful range of ingredients and dishes that are commonly available.
Food consumed by the inhabitants of the Inca Empire varied depending on where in the vast territory they lived. People living near the coast based their diet on fresh seafood and fruits and in the Andes on potatoes and corn. The vast majority of the Inca population lived along the Andes where in many places food could not be grown due to the rugged terrain and freezing temperatures.
The Incas grew their food in the fertile plains between mountains peaks, seasonal rains made its soil suitable for agriculture. The Inca civilization inherited their knowledge of agriculture from Andean cultures predating the Incas. They built agricultural terraces by cutting wide flat steps into the slopes of the mountains making agriculture more efficient.The also inherited an efficient water management system.
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.), is one of the species domesticated and cultivated in Peru since pre-Hispanic times (more than five thousand years). The Lake Titicaca basin is the area considered to be the main center of origin of quinoa and the center of conservation of the greatest biological diversity of this species, in which there are ingenious farming systems and a food culture that incorporates the grain into the daily digestion
The history of quinoa has little archaeological, linguistic and ethnographic evidence, since many religious rites associated with the use of the grain are not known. Archaeological evidence from northern Chile indicates that quinoa was used 3,000 years before Christ, while findings in the Ayacucho area would indicate that the domestication of quinoa occurred 5,000 years before Christ. There are also archaeological finds of quinoa in tombs in Tarapacá, Calama, Arica and different regions of Peru, consisting of seeds and inflorescences, finding abundant amounts of seeds in indigenous tombs of the Tiltil and Quillagua.
Evidence of the use of quinoa is found in the ceramics of the Tiahuanaco culture, which represents the quinoa plant, with several panicles distributed along the stem, which would show one of the most primitive races.
During the Inca empire, quinoa became one of their main crops and a staple in the diet of the inhabitants. Currently, the grain is grown in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, northern Argentina and other countries. Peru and Bolivia are the largest producers of this Andean grain that is similar to rice in colonial times, where the Spanish called it “American rice” or “wheat of the Incas”.
Peru is the holder of a genetic diversity of both wild and cultivated quinoa, being one of the largest producers and exporters, and whose cultivation represents a potential and commercial opportunity that will contribute to improving the quality of life of the high Andean populations.
Cañihua, like quinoa, is a cereal that has great nutritional power, because it has twice the protein of common foods such as wheat, rice or oats. Its origin is in the areas of the Peruvian highlands and it is produced mainly in the Puno region north of Lake Titicaca.
Approximately 5 thousand hectares of cañihua are planted in this region and the average yield per hectare reaches between 750 and 800 kilos. It should be noted that this grain is produced at an altitude between 3,500 and 4,200 meters above sea level.
It is a crop that successfully copes with frost, drought and low temperatures. It is a good nutritional alternative especially for children and older adults, as it stands out for its excellent quality of protein and minerals. Specialists recommend including this cereal in the diet, as they are an important source of energy and insoluble fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol due to its low glyceride index.
One of the most precious food gems in the world, kiwicha, grows in Peruvian soil. Also known by its scientific name Amaranthus caudatus, it is considered to be one of the oldest crops in North and South America as, according to scientific studies, it was planted and cultivated 4,000 years ago by the Caral Culture.
This cereal – considered a superfood – is one of the few forms of amaranth whose seeds thrive at heights above 4000 masl. According to nutritionist Sara Abu Sabbah, kiwicha has a high nutritional value and was considered by our Inca ancestors to be one of their main energy sources. Each grain is between 15 and 18 % protein (which helps with bone and muscle formation). On top of this, the grain also has a high percentage of calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. It is ideal for pregnant women and infants.
By eating it, vitamin A – also called retinal – is ingested, which has antioxidant properties and preserves the health and proper functioning of specific tissues, such as the retina. It also contains a high amount of amino acids which promote the brain development of those who eat it.
Kiwicha also holds vitamin B complex, used to supply energy to the human body, while also helping keep the nervous system balanced. This Andean food also stands out for its high fiber content. La kiwicha y sus más de 1,200 variedades tuvieron un protagonismo fundamental en el Imperio Inca, al ser el alimento que se consumía por excelencia. Sin embargo, la época posterior a la llegada de los españoles, su presencia es casi nula, no por inexistente, sino porque se consumía a escondidas, oculta tras el velo del temor y el reproche de quienes disfrutaban de sus encantos.
Corn is a grass native to the Americas, but before this food acquired world fame and gastronomic presence, the Inca society was also, like the other great civilizations of America, a civilization of corn, a crop known in Peru since ancient times. at least 1200 years B.C. The ancient Peruvian farmers achieved sophistication in the selection and creation of new varieties adaptable to different geographical and climatic spaces, this being one of the main reasons why it was included as an element present in most of their rites and festivities.
The chronicler Bernabé Cobo relates that in ancient Peru there was corn (called corn) of all colors: white, purple yellow, red and mixed black. Today, on the coast, Andes and jungle of Peru, more than 55 varieties of the popular cob are grown, more than anywhere else in the world. The Incas ate it toasted or cooked in water. On solemn occasions they ground the grains to make Huminta. For solemn festivals, such as the sun festival (Inti Raymi), rolls called Sanqhu were made.
VARIETIES OF PERUVIAN CORN:
Peru has 35 varieties of corn, more than any other country in the world, including among them the imposing cobs of the mountains, which, in addition to the size of their grains, stand out for their incomparable flavor. For this reason, unlike other regions of America, Peru is distinguished by the consumption of cooked corn on the cob, in addition to ground corn in the batán. In Peru, eating corn, cooked or toasted, is an ancient and pre-Columbian custom. The peasants reserve corn, according to its variety, for special occasions and dishes, so much so that at harvest time, freshly cooked corn is offered with spicy sauce and local cheese.
URUBAMBA GIANT WHITE CORN
This corn is native to the department of Cusco, specifically the Sacred Valley of the Incas. It develops between 2,600 and 3,050m.a.s.l., it has large ears with 8 rows, large, round and floury grain. The plants grow to a height of 2 to 3 meters, they are characterized by having a thick stem without suckers suitable for the climatic characteristics of the Sacred Valley. The name of white corn corresponds to the color of the grain and it is called giant because of the exceptionally large size of its grains. Cusco refers to the geographical area of its origin.
The prevailing perfect climate in the Sacred Valley created an environment conducive to the cultivation of different agricultural products such as quinoa, beans, olluco, coca and, above all, corn. Due to the fact that each product needs a different type of microclimate for its cultivation, the Incas created an impressive terrace system. Testimony of this are the agricultural terraces found in Moray, a circular terrace system similar to an amphitheater.
THE PURPLE CORN
Purple corn is a genetic mutation of corn. It flourishes cultivated or in the wild in various parts of America. Purple corn was grown in Peru in pre-Hispanic times and was known as moro sara or kulli sara. However, it is Peru where its cultivation is most widespread and where it is massively used to make soft drinks and desserts. Chicha morada is a traditional soft drink from the Peruvian coast. It is prepared with purple corn boiled in water with pineapple and quince peel and a little cinnamon and cloves; once cold, it is sweetened with sugar and seasoned with lemon juice and fine pieces of fresh fruit (apple, pineapple or quince).
BEANS AND LEGUMES:
Grain legumes make up an important group of food crops that have played a fundamental role in the diet of the Incas for more than 5,000 years. Archaeological finds and the iconography of ancient cultures indicate that they were staple foods in ancient Tawantinsuyo; Beans and Lima beans were highly valued foods in the Inca civilization. In Peru, there is evidence of the consumption of legumes since pre-Inca times (as is the case of the Moche culture of the north coast of Peru), remains of lima beans and various types of beans have been found in iconography and ceramics of this culture. Thus, our Inca ancestors bequeathed to humanity the most colorful and largest beans and lima beans in the world, and beans that have the ability to burst, similar to pop corn, when subjected to a roasting process.
In Peru, twelve species of grain legumes are cultivated with more than eighty commercial classes, in around 200,000 hectares, distributed in the 3 regions and in the 24 departments of the country, from sea level to more than 3,500 m a.s.l. . n. m. Of the cultivated species, beans, lima beans, and nuñas, or porotos, are native to Peru and some other Latin American countries.
The achira, also known as Sagú, Capacho, Risgua or Caña de India, is a perennial plant that can grow up to 3 meters high. This herbaceous plant belongs to the Cannacea family and its scientific name is Canna indica. When speaking of the achira, reference is made to both the ornamental plant and its edible tuber.
Native to South American lands, the achira is a really ancient plant, in fact, remains have been found that indicate that it was already cultivated in Peru more than 4,500 years ago. Its cultivation has been an important part, especially of Peruvian cultures.
The tubers known as Achira are numerous rhizomes with a spherical, top or cylindrical shape that are found at the base of the achira plant. These rhizomes can measure between 3 and 12 cm wide and between 5 and 20 cm high, on their surface they have transverse grooves that mark scales that cover them.
In their lower part, these tubers have small white cylindrical rootlets, and at the apex a pseudostem, the flower stem and the leaves. Four main types of achira are described: the red one, it is a red plant, it is usually used to decorate and its tubers contain a high content of starch, so they are highly edible. The White achira is rich in nutrients, it varies with respect to its color although it contains the same nutritional components as the other species.
Herb with compact foliage and flowers with 5 red sepals and 5 yellow petals. It produces tubers 5 to 15 cm long, whose color varies between white, yellow and orange. In the Andes, it extends from Colombia to Argentina. It is a plant cultivated since pre-Hispanic times in the Andes and is represented in the ceramics of those times. It has its origin in the Andean region from Ecuador to Bolivia. Near 3,000 masl there are wild species that could be the ancestors.
The tubers are consumed cooked. The young shoots and flowers are eaten cooked as vegetables. It is also used against kidney stones. As an antibiotic against Candida albicans, Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus. Good against genitourinary ailments. Against anemia.
Decreases the amount of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone in the blood. It is said that it reduces the sexual instinct and it is said that the troops of the Incas carried the mashua as cold meat to forget about their women.
High content of proteins, carbohydrates, fibers and calories. Its cultivation is similar to that of the potato. It is harvested between 6 and 8 months. Tubers can be stored for up to six months in cool, ventilated places. It is highly productive and grows best between 2,400 and 4,300 meters above sea level.
Also known as the “white carrot”. The Arracacha is one of the oldest Andean plants and the most cultivated in the pre-Inca period, whose domestication preceded the potato and corn. The roots contain easily digestible starch. The arracacha, with its pleasant taste, also contains minerals and other micronutrients. It is especially rich in calcium and iron, and vitamin B3 (niacin). The bright yellow roots are an undoubted source of vitamin A.
Arracacha (Arracacia xanthorrhiza), an ancient root consumed since pre-Columbian times, belongs to the same family as celery and carrots. According to the Andean Roots and Tubers researcher at the International Potato Center, Iván Manrique, it has a very high content of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A; it is richer in calcium than potatoes and has more iron.
It is also an excellent antioxidant, strengthens the immune system and is easy to digest. Therefore, its consumption is recommended in children and the elderly. However, it is a highly perishable product, after a week the arracacha spoils.
The arracacha has three main varieties, with its distinctive yellow, white and purple colored roots. They are often planted interspersed with corn, beans and coffee. It has a dense pulp, texture and flavor richer than potatoes; the root can be roasted or boiled and is used as an accompaniment to flavor a variety of dishes from soups to desserts. The young stems are used in salads or as a cooked vegetable, and the leaves are often fed to livestock.
Its main health benefits are:
• Provide energy to the body, as it is an excellent source of carbohydrates;
• Fight constipation, because it is rich in fiber and improves the health of the intestinal flora;
• Improve the immune system because it is rich in zinc, vitamin C and B complex vitamins, nutrients that are essential to raise the body’s defenses;
• Prevent early aging and improve skin health, because it contains a high amount of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that promotes skin healing and collagen production;
• Improve heart health, because it is rich in vitamin B3, which helps lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reducing the risk of heart disease. In addition to this, it also helps relax blood vessels and improve circulation, because it contains minerals such as magnesium and potassium;
• Maintain the health of bones and teeth, because it is rich in calcium and phosphorus, essential nutrients to prevent diseases such as osteopenia and osteoporosis;
• Promote muscle growth, because it is rich in carbohydrates, which provide energy for training. In addition, it is rich in calcium and magnesium, minerals that improve muscle strength and contraction, favoring hypertrophy.
• Arracacha has fewer calories than sweet potatoes and a similar amount of fiber, which makes it an excellent option to vary the diet and promote weight loss or muscle gain.
Cassava is a tuberous root possibly from Brazil, Paraguay or the Amazon. Its domestication in the Andean region dates back to prehistoric times and has been the basis of food, along with corn, of different indigenous groups.
The cassava was domesticated more than 8,000 years ago, at the end of the Archaic stage when some groups of hunter-gatherers began to work it and in this way to adopt a more sedentary way of life. This has been verified in archaeological excavations.
It was the development of horticulture, after agriculture, and especially of crops such as cassava, maize, and potatoes, that formed the basis of that cultural advance which, in its culminating form, has been designated civilization. An important crop in the indigenous livelihood and in a temperate climate was that of cassava. Cassava farms were divided according to their consumption, there were areas where wild or bitter yucca was planted and consumed in the form of cassava and others where sweet yucca was grown and eaten boiled or roasted.
CAMOTE (SWEET POTATO):
Low erect herb with numerous roots, some of which form tuberous roots. Its leaves have variable shape and color. Its flowers have colors that range from white to deep purple, and its fruit has a capsular shape with 1 to 4 seeds. It has been domesticated and cultivated for at least 8,000 years in Ayacuho, in the Andes of Peru. Representations are found in pre-Columbian pottery and tuberous roots in tombs.
The tuber is consumed in many ways: cooked, baked, mashed, in jam and other sweets, etc. It is also used against itching, swelling, as a bactericide and fungicide. It acts against the bite of insects such as bedbugs and scorpions, skin infections, carachas, varicose veins, rheumatism, as an anti-inflammatory, vulnerary and galactogen.
The roots have a high content of calcium, phosphorus, carbohydrates, among other elements. The sweet potato is typical of tropical and temperate climates up to 2,500 meters above sea level. It prefers loose, deep soils with organic matter. The sweet potato was brought to Polynesia by the emperor Túpac Yupanqui, son of Pachacutec (who built Machu Picchu). This Inca left the north coast to follow the Humboldt Current and after a journey of several months arrived with twenty thousand Inca warriors on the distant island of Mangareva, in what is now French Polynesia, very close to Australia. This was done in 1465, 17 years before Columbus discovered America. To date, the legend of King Tupa is known in these islands and his visit is commemorated with a dance and in a strait that bears his name.
Sweet potato fiber cleanses the colon. It acts like a broom that sweeps away constipation. Linares recommends replacing with sweet potatoes all the dishes that we serve with rice. Let us remember that rice has very little nutritional contribution while sweet potato is very rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron. To stimulate the production of breast milk, it is recommended to boil two sweet potatoes and drink the cooking water. In case of gastritis, it is ideal to make a diet of papaya juice, sanky and soaked flaxseeds.
Native to the Andean area (between 1,000 and 4,000 meters above sea level), olluco (Ullucus tuberosus) is a tuber that is cultivated in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. In our country, it is one of the four most important tubers, and it is grown mainly in the regions of Cusco, Apurímac. Olluco is an edible root tuber native to the Andes. Its appearance is similar to that of a small potato, but in this case with different colors. After the potato, it is one of the most consumed tubers in the areas where it is grown, however it is almost unknown outside the Andean region.
Ollucos can be of various colors, from pale/bright yellow to orange, pink and red. Olluco plants, which reach 35-40 cm in height, produce edible leaves approximately 90 cm long. Each plant produces a series of small, medium, or large tubers, ranging from 1/2 inch to 3 inches. Olluco has an earthy flavor, similar to beets, but with a firmer texture. This flavor is due to its content of geosmin (an organic compound with an earthy flavor and aroma present in beets and responsible for the smell that is produced in the air when it rains).
Olluco is a good source of carbohydrates, although it provides 20% fewer calories per serving than potatoes. It is rich in water, vitamin C, protein, fiber, minerals, among other essential nutrients. The colors of ulluco are the result of high concentrations of betalain, a pigment that is also found in beets and has antioxidant activity. Some of the types of betalains present in olluco have not been found in any other edible plant.
Being a nutritious tuber, olluco provides several health benefits, including helping to protect the skin. Olluco has healing properties that have been exploited by the natives of the Andes for centuries for the treatment of acne, stretch marks, chicken pox and burns. The contribution of B vitamins from olluco favors the good health of the skin, hair and nails, preventing the appearance of wrinkles or premature aging. It is also widely used to remove skin blemishes.
It is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. The juice of this tuber is rich in mineral salts that help expel toxins from the body, relieving inflammation of the muscles and joints. It is used as a natural treatment for rheumatism, erysipelas and bronchial infections.
Helps to lose weight. Olluco has relatively few calories and is mostly made up of water (85%), which is why it is an excellent source of carbohydrates when you want to lose weight.
It is a muscle relaxant. Since it has relaxing properties, this tuber has been used for centuries to relieve labor pain in women who are about to give birth.
Helps prevent cancer. Ollucos are especially rich in betalain, an antioxidant rarely found in other foods. Science has shown that antioxidants help prevent and fight cancer thanks to their destructive effect on the free radicals that cause it.
Originally from Peru, maca is a herbaceous plant that is cultivated on the plateaus of the Peruvian Andes, and that has played a very important role in the culture, religion, diet and natural medicine of the inhabitants, since at least 3,000 years ago.
With the scientific name Pidium meyenii, maca was considered by pre-Columbian cultures as a gift from the gods. It was the Incas who intensified and spread its use, especially for combatants, who attributed to its consumption the vitality and physical strength that were necessary on the battlefield.
Maca has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years and is now one of the most famous Andean products recognized worldwide as an incredible superfood. Peru has the best maca roots, which are known as the Inca fountain of youth. The benefits of Maca have been valued by many researchers and nutritionists. The root of this plant can be eaten in many ways. The most common way to eat maca raw is the powder of its dried root.
Maca increases energy levels and fights physical and mental fatigue and stress. It strengthens the immune system, stimulates the endocrine system, balances the diet avoiding malnutrition, increases endurance in athletes by promoting mental clarity, improves concentration and focus: in a word, it stimulates all systems!