Monday, November 15, 2010

South American Homebrew: Chicha (Part 1)

Chicha is a traditional Andean drink made primarily of corn. Some 'modern' interpretations include a bit of barley with the corn. The road to making chicha seems to have many side alleys and local detours, so there are many ways of getting to the end.

There are at least two main types of chicha, alcoholic and non- alcoholic. Within the alcoholic version there are high and low alcohol versions. There are also many varieties of corn that can be used to make Chicha, but the non-alcoholic version tends to be made of purple corn and the alcoholic version tends to be made of yellow corn. The corn tends to have been dried on the cob in the sun before the chicha-making process begins, but fresh corn is probably used in season. Chicha is almost always made by women, because men making chicha might offend the Peruvian goddess of grain Mama Sara (Zaramama.) Men brewing chicha in Andean society would be considered as bad luck and just plain stupid, since men don’t belong in the kitchen. This is an ancient tradition that continues to today. The chicha I drank in Peru was made by a woman.

The first step in making chicha is to make jora. This is the equivalent of making malt before making beer, so the corn kernels are placed in water to soak for a day or two, which will start their germination. The soak water should be changed twice a day or more to maintain the kernel’s freshness. Bacteria may start to work if the corn is kept soaking in stagnant water, and the kernels need oxygen for the germination process. After a couple of days, you should see sprouts start to appear, and inside the corn enzymes are forming that will help convert the starch in the corn to sugar.

The second step is usually to dry the jora. If you're making a bunch of jora you'll want to dry it so it doesn’t go bad before you get a chance to use it. Traditionally the drying is done by laying the jora out in the sun. You could also just make a small batch of jora and crush it for immediate use. Fresh or dried, your jora will need to be crushed before we can go on to the next step: extracting the sugar water. After it is crushed the jora may also be called pachucho, or possibly huinapu.

This third step is equivalent to 'mashing' for beer brewers. I don't have a lot of detail on this but my surmise is that the jora and a suitable amount of water are heated together, about two parts water to one part jora. They are gradually heated to a boil. As the corn and water are heated, they pass through a range of temperatures that help the enzymes created in the jora-making step to convert some of the starch in the corn to sugar. As the temperatures get above 170, those enzymes are destroyed. Cusco Peru is the epicenter for Chicha, and water boils at around 190 degrees in Cusco, rather than 212 degrees at sea level, so they get to a boiling temperature rather quickly. The boil should be continued for several hours.

If you're making non-alcoholic Chicha Morado, you're almost done. Just strain off the boiled liquid, cool it, add some lime juice to balance the sweetness, add a bit of spice and you're all set. The straining process can be accomplished with anything from cheesecloth to layers of straw.

Stay tuned for part two...

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