Corn is a grass native to the Americas, but before this food acquired worldwide fame and gastronomic presence, about eight thousand years ago, corn was already domesticated in America and enjoyed a significant presence in the ancient cultures of our continent, including the most important ones: Inca, Maya and Aztec. It is known that these three cultures, with many similarities, established their economy and food based on corn, being this one of the main reasons why it was included as an element present in most of their rites and festivities.
One of the most important rituals of the Inca calendar was the Capacocha or Capac Hucha, translated as "real obligation". This ritual consisted of feasts and offerings of recognition and gratitude to the Inca ancestor Mama Huaco, who had given the Inca empire the first corn.
According to historians, one or more children, chosen for their exceptional beauty and physical perfection, were sent to Cuzco from the four regions of Tahuantinsuyo. Once gathered in the imperial city, the priests performed the sacrifice of some animals and together with the Inca, they officiated symbolic marriages between the children of both sexes.
After the celebration, the entourage would go to the place where they would make the offering, singing rhythmic songs in honor of the Inca. The children were dressed with the best clothes and were given to drink chicha (corn alcohol) until they were intoxicated. Once asleep, they were deposited in a well under the ground, accompanied by exquisite offerings, which included corn. This ritual would offer a good harvest.
Thus, it is understandable that in all the burial bundles of pre-Columbian cultures found to date, corn is present as part of a precious and special offering.
Likewise in Peru, corn is present in various ceramics, mantles and engravings on the walls of various cultures and even today we can see how various costumes of some typical dances of Peru are adorned with corn kernels.
Although it is better known as the cradle of the potato, the Inca society was also, like the other great civilizations of America, a civilization of corn, a crop known in Peru since at least 1200 years B.C. The ancient Peruvian farmers achieved sophistication in the selection and creation of new varieties adaptable to the diverse geographical and climatic spaces. The chronicler Bernabé Cobo relates that in ancient Peru corn (called choclo) was found in all colors: white, purple yellow, colored black and mixed. Today, in the coast, highlands and jungle of Peru, more than 55 varieties of the popular corn on the cob are cultivated, more than anywhere else in the world. In the Royal Commentaries of the Incas, by the Inca Garcilazo de la Vega, we learn about the eating habits in the Colony. This writer relates that one of the pillars of the diet was corn, which they called sara and that they ate it roasted or cooked in water. On solemn occasions they ground the grains to make a bread called tanta or huminta. For solemn feasts, such as that of the sun (Inti Raymi), they made rolls called zancu. The corn was also eaten toasted, and was called as it is still called today: cancha (predecessor of pop corn).
Peru has 35 varieties of corn, more than any other country in the world, including the imposing corn cobs from the highlands, which, in addition to the size of their grains, stand out for their incomparable flavor. Therefore, unlike other regions of the Americas, Peru is distinguished by the consumption of corn cooked on the cob, in addition to the ground in the fuller. In Peru, eating corn, cooked or roasted, is an ancestral and pre-Columbian custom. The farmers reserve corn, according to its variety, for special occasions and dishes, so much so that at harvest time, freshly cooked corn is offered "las caseras" with hot sauce and local cheese. The corn boiled in mote is different from the one used toasted in the field, the one used for the chicha or for the humitas. Other varieties are, on the other hand, suitable for mazamorras or soups.
There are regional varieties in the elaboration of corn stews. In the north it is very popular the pepián, stew elaborated with grated corn mixed with a drowned of onion, garlic and chili and that acquires a particular flavor when cooked with turkey prey. In Arequipa, the soltero is eaten (with beans, corn, onion and toppings with fresh cheese). In the jungle, one of the typical stews, the inchi cachi, is made with boiled chicken in a stew of corn and roasted peanuts. Among the desserts is known sanguito (made with yellow corn flour, butter, raisins and chancaca). In addition to the classic mazamorra morada, which we will talk about later. In addition, corn has been adapted to international cuisine. They are delicious, for example, shelled corn cake with mozzarella cheese or with bechamel sauce or a delicious lasagna of tender corn. On the other hand, reference should be made to the purple corn sorbets, which are beginning to cause a stir in the ice cream world.
The traditional drink of Cusco and the Peruvian Andes is chicha de jora. According to studies by researcher Eleana Llosa, there are people specialized in producing the drink, who soak the yellow corn in barrels, then let it germinate in pits made in the ground and then in the open air, covering the grain with straw until the sprout grows. The corn turned into jora is taken to special markets where it is ground into small pieces. In the picanterías or chicherías, the jora is boiled on the stove, with water and corn flour, for several hours, and then strained in the isanga, which is a basket filled with straw. With the resulting bagasse is prepared another boiled, with new water. Both boiled ones are left to ferment in chombas or clay containers and then mixed, adding the concho left over from the previous day so that the chicha acquires sufficient alcoholic content. At the end, a mixture of water cooked with flour and sugar is usually added. The chicha should be drunk the same day to avoid excess fermentation and loss of foam.
Purple corn is a genetic mutation of corn. It flourishes in cultivation or in the wild in various parts of the Americas. Purple corn was cultivated in Peru in pre-Hispanic times and was known as moro sara or kulli sara. It is also cultivated by farmers in the Yucatan and by the Hobi and Navajo Indian tribes in the United States. However, it is in Peru where its cultivation is most widespread and where it is massively used to make soft drinks, sherbets 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 with 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). The mazamorra made from corn is of pre-Hispanic origin. Several chroniclers report the motalsa or ishkupcha of yellow corn prepared in pre-Hispanic times with a little quicklime. In colonial times, a new dessert was created by mixing native products, such as purple corn and sweet potato flour, with sugar and a variety of dried and stewed fruits (cherries, sour cherries, dried apricots, openers, apples and quince) from Spain. The fondness for this dessert spread the saying "limeño mazamorrero", popularized by the writer Ricardo Palma, author of the famous Tradiciones Peruanas (Peruvian Traditions).