Odd Spirits: Chicha

Ever had a beverage brewed using human spit?

If you’ve been to Peru, then chances are you’ve run across Chicha in your travels. Chicha has vast cultural significance in the country, and yes it is truly made with human saliva. Let’s back up and talk about the history of chicha.

Chicha doesn’t necessarily refer to one specific drink, but more of a family of drinks; generally speaking, Chicha is a fermented (sometimes non-fermented) corn based beer. Like beer, the process includes germinating the corn, extracting the malt sugars, boiling the wort and then fermenting. The saliva comes into play as Andean people realized they could use saliva to activate the fermentation process, making the partial chewing & spitting out of corn kernels the first step in the chicha brewing process.

Now, modern Chicha has seen the chewing & spitting part of the process removed over time, with instead malted barley being used, as is common in most beer brewing processes. That said, the old techniques live on in the more remote and rural corners of the mountains, and for the more adventurous types. In fact, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione actually imitated and served this beer at his brewery, personally chewing the corn along with his brewers.

What does Chicha actually taste like? Overall it’s slightly sour with a definite yeast-like taste, there are elements of beer in there so it wouldn’t be unfamiliar to a beer drinkers palate.

Chicha isn’t the only alcoholic beverage that utilizes human spit in Peru, there is also Masato that is made with chewed up yuca. The resulting liquor isn’t that tasty on its own, so Peruvians add fruit and spices to the drink which basically is the ancient equivalent of tropical cocktail.

It’s unlikely you’ll find Chicha or Masato anywhere outside of Peru (with the exception of Dogfish’s blend), but if you’re ever in the country, take the opportunity to try this ancient brew for yourself.

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