Grocery Ninja: Chicha Morada, Peruvian Purple Corn Drink

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read all her mission reports here.

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The Russian housemate adores mulled cider. This wouldn’t be a problem except, come fall, my usually easy-going housemate morphs into a mulled cider dictator and gets monopolistic about fridge space – insisting that there is no room for any other kind of beverage. No oj, no soy milk, no nothing save for yet another jug of mulled cider. And while I used to love the stuff, palate fatigue is real… and I have no use for it on my cereal.

Hence, this year, us housemates are plotting an intervention: employing the logic of gradually weaning smokers off cigarettes with nicotine gum, we’re going to wean said housemate off mulled cider by tempting him with something different. We’re going to supply him with a fling. Thus far, our research is complete and our kitchen experiments are well on their way to success. We believe we have found a Jezebel to charm the pants off a dedicated mulled cider man.

As with most solutions to modern day pickles, we found our answer by reaching back in history. Originating from the Incas, chicha morada is a sweet, refreshing beverage made from purple corn or maiz morado. Everyone has a slightly different recipe for making the drink, but the basic formula involves simmering purple corncobs with pineapple rinds (how economical!), cinnamon, cloves, and lime juice. Some cooks like to add apples and quinces to the mix, but that, to my mind, is gilding the lily.

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Chicha morada served warm is comforting and complex – giddy with spice notes and tropical sunshine. Served cold, chicha morada is muted, elegant, and would not be out of place in a crystal goblet (despite its ready availability on the streets of Latin America). Corn-loathers will be pleased to know that any corn flavor there is is subtle, and most people (myself included) would scant notice it.

Beyond taste, there are claims that a diet rich in chicha, ceviche, and a green Peruvian hot sauce called aji is a cure-all and will keep one hale and hearty for life. While that may be debatable, studies have shown that purple corn is rich in anthocyanins and has greater antioxidant capacity than blueberries. Lab tests have also shown positive results for blue corn’s anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, and anti-cancer properties.

There are companies that bottle chicha morada and sell it powdered in handy sachets. But I’ve heard they aren’t a patch on the homemade stuff. Dried purple corncobs are available at Hispanic groceries; I suspect canned pineapples make an adequate substitute for pineapple rind. Weaning someone off a much-loved food item is a slow process, but us housemates are hopeful. And, with palates inundated with too much mulled cider, we unanimously agree: chicha morada kicks mulled cider ass.

About the author: Wan Yan Ling can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.

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