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Chicha is a Spanish word for any variety of fermented beverage. It can be made of maize, manioc root (also called yuca or cassava), or fruits, among other things. During the Inca Empire women were taught the techniques of brewing chicha in Acllahuasis (feminine schools). It is traditionally prepared from a specific kind of yellow maize (jora) and is usually referred to as chicha de jora. It has a pale straw color, a slightly milky appearance, and a slightly sour aftertaste, reminiscent of hard apple cider. It is drunk either young and sweet or mature and strong. It contains a slight amount of alcohol, 1-3%.
While chicha is most commonly associated with maize, the word is used in the Andes for almost any homemade fermented drink, and many different grains or fruits are used to make "chicha" in different regions.
In Peru, chicha also means an informal and transient arrangement, or a street vendor. In other Latin American countries like Panama, chicha can simply mean "softdrink" or "juice."
The common Spanish expression "Ni chicha ni limonada" is roughly equivalent to the English "neither fish nor fowl." (Thus, it is used when something is not easily placed into a category.)
According to the Real Academia Española and other authors, the word chicha comes from the kuna word chichab, which means maize. However, according to Luis Goatherd it comes from the Nahuatl word chichiatl, which means "fermented water"; the verb chicha meaning "to sour a drink" and the postfix -atl meaning water.
Chicha de jora is prepared by germinating maize, extracting the malt sugars, boiling the wort, and fermenting it in large vessels, traditionally huge earthenware vats, for several days.
In some cultures, in lieu of germination of the maize for release of the starches in the maize, the maize is ground, moistened in the chicha maker's mouth and formed into small balls which are then flattened and laid out to dry. The diastase enzyme in the maker's saliva releases the starch in the maize.
Chicha Morada on the other hand is not fermented. It is usually made of black maize which is boiled with pineapple, cinnamon, and clove. This gives a strong purple-colored liquid which is then mixed with sugar and lemon. This beverage is usually taken as a refreshment.Varieties
There are various regional varieties of chicha
Chicha is made from grapes or apples and drunk during the 18th of September celebrations (Independence Day).
In Lima and other large coastal cities, chicha morada is prepared from maiz morado (purple corn). It is usually sweet and consumed cold like a softdrink. It is even industrially prepared and sold in bottles and cans.
In and around Cuzco, strawberries are added to chicha in season to make frutillada.
In Puno, chicha can be found made from quinoa. It is very pale in color, almost white.
In Ayacucho, chicha de siete semillas is a thick, rich-tasting chicha made from maize, wheat, barley, and garbanzo beans.
In the town of Huanta, chicha de molle is prepared from the small, reddish seeds of the molle tree. It is very rare and perhaps the most delicately flavored chicha.
Chicha or chicha de arroz is made of boiled rice, milk, sugar and chopped ice. It is usually served as a sweet, refreshing beverage with ground cinnamon and/or condensed milk toppings. In most large cities, chicha can be offered by street vendors, commonly referred to as Chicheros. The Venezuelan Andean regions prepare an alternative version, with added fermented pineapple, which has a more liquory taste. This variety is commonly referred to as Chicha Andina and is a typical Christmas time beverage.
There chicha is most often made from maize but amaranth chicha is also traditional and popular.
In many parts of Colombia chicha is prepared with maize, yuca, quinoa, pineapple, rice, potatoes, etc., depending on the zone. Some recipes even include cannabis or coca leaf, or other traditional etheogens. It is drunk in large quantities in celebrations but also as a refreshing and nutritious beverage. Chicha is prepared in many ways, and is considered an art, and a person who makes good chicha is respected, but it is usually kept between family and friends because of cases of prohibition, the difficulty of storing and transporting it, as well as prejudice against indigenous traditions (though the tradition has spread to many non-indigenous communities). While primarily consumed in rural areas, some bars and restaurants in Bogotá and other Andean cities serve chicha, and the drink is especially popular in countercultural circles as a sort of DIY alternative to mass-produced beers.