Inca Food: preservation methods from our ancient culinary heritage
25 September 2019
In the 14th and 15th centuries the Inca Empire developed the greatest civilization of that had yet existed the Americas, by conquering and occupying a huge extension of the Andes , from northern Chile and Argentina, north to southern Colombia.
The Empire comprised many smaller cultures, with a population of millions of people. How does such a large, extended civilization feed all its people?
This was not difficult, since Andean cultures had developed thriving agricultural systems long before the Incas. The Andes provided a wealth of plant crops that originate in the region, such as hearty maize, or corn , nutritious quinoa , and hundreds of varieties of potatoes.
Over thousands of years, Andean farmers became masters in breeding crops and animals, and in irrigating their fields, and thus were able to produce the surplus of crops and meat that fed the Empire.
Millenary preservation methods
But then, how did the Incas and pre-Incas preserve all that good food without having modern refrigeration? In that activity, they also were true experts.
First, the Incas made good use the dry, cold weather of the Andes. They developed innovative natural methods of drying potatoes, maize and other foods that are still used today.
For example, potatoes were placed in fields, where they would freeze in cold, dry nights. Then in the warm daytime sun, they would squeeze the water out of the potatoes by gently walking over them. Over a period of days, they would then have delicious freeze-dried potatoes, called chuño, or moraya, which would keep for months or even years.
Similar processes preserved dried corn, canchita, which could be used many months later to make corn beer, or chicha, a highly valued ceremonial drink. Quinoa, a dry cereal, was easier to preserve.
And the Incas were experts in storing their food, in ceramics and in stone storage silos. All of these dried foods have been found, perfectly preserved, in Inca and pre-Inca burial sites.
Andean cooking helped as well
Andean cooking methods also helped to preserve foods. Pachamanca, the amazing Andean method of slowly roasting over hot rocks in covered pits, creates delicious meals; it also helps cooked foods and meats to last for longer periods of time.
Pachamanca is a special meal enjoyed on holidays, as is the similar huatia, in which potatoes are slow-cooked in a round oven made of hot rocks set up on the ground.
The Incas ate the meat of llamas, alpacas and cuy or guinea pigs, as modern-day Andean people still do. To preserve the meats, they were also dried in the sun, which produced charqui, the Quechua origin of the name jerky.
Other ingredients that helped preserve foods were different culinary herbs, spices and hot peppers found in the Andes, which also impart delicious flavors.
Many of these ancient Andean culinary techniques and food preservation methods are still today employed in Peruvian kitchens.
If there is one thing to do when visiting Peru, it is to taste and delight in its traditional dishes, and in the new Andean fusion cuisine, which offers modern takes on the ingredients of the Andes. It’s no wonder that Peru is world-renowned and admired for its food diversity and culinary wonders!
And Cusco is one of the best destinations to experience Peruvian cuisine, with an abundance of fine restaurants and eateries, enough to satisfy the most demanding appetite.
Please contact us at andeanlodges.com to find out more about enjoying excellent food in Cusco. At our state-of-the-art mountain ecolodges at Ausangate, our expert chefs will entice your taste buds with delightful traditional dishes while you enjoy your amazing trek on the Route to Ausangate.