Andean cuisine

Andean cuisine

Andean cuisine originated in pre-Columbian times with the first horticulturists from the valley of Lauricocha; archaeologists have suggested that they domesticated tubers, like potatoes and yuccas, around 10,000 BCE. The Andean region stretched across many different landscapes, which meant that there was a great diversity of plants and animals used for cooking, many of which remain unknown outside Peru. The most important staples were various tubers, roots, and grains. Maize was of high prestige, but could not be grown as extensively as it was further north. The most common sources of meat were guinea pigs and llamas, and dried fish was common.


Amaranth was one of the staple foods of the Incas, and it is known as "kiwicha" in the Andes today. In addition, they used amaranth to create effigies of animals that were used in religious ceremonies. Later, the Spanish would ban the use of amaranth for this reason. There were also several types of edible clay, like "pasa", which was used as sauce for potatoes and other tubers and "chaco" something associated with the poor or religiously devout. Just like in the rest of Central and South America chili peppers were an important and highly praised part of the diet. [Coe p. 179-180]

Vegetable food

In the long Inca realm that stretched from north to south there was a great variety of different climate zones. In Peru in particular, the mountain ranges provide highly varied types of growing zones at different altitudes. [Coe p. 169-170] The staples of the Incas included various plants with edible tubers and roots like potato and sweet potato, in hundreds of varieties. There was also oca, which came in two varieties, one sweet and one bitter. The sweet variety could be eaten raw or preserved and was used as a sweetener before the arrival of sugar. The insipid, starchy root ullucu and arracacha, something like a cross between carrot and celery were, like potatoes, used in stews and soups. "Achira", a species of "Canna", was a sweet, starchy root that was baked in earth ovens. Since it had to be transported up to the power center of Cuzco it is considered to have been food eaten as part of a tradition. Though the roots and tubers provided the staples of the Inca, they were still considered lower in rank than maize.

Several species of seaweed were part of the Inca diet and could be eaten fresh or dried. Some freshwater algae and blue algae of the genus "Nostoc" were eaten raw or processed for storage. In post-colonial times it has been used to make a dessert by boiling it in sugar. Pepino, a refreshing and thirst-quenching fruit that was eaten by common folk but scorned by "pampered folk" and were considered difficult to digest. [Coe p. 181-190]


The Inca had two large domesticated animals: llamas and alpacas. They were kept for their wool and used as pack animals that were often employed in large caravans. The llama in particular was highly valued and white llama adorned in red cloth with gold earrings would often go before the Inca ruler as a royal symbol. Animals were believed to represent various gods depending on what color they had and were sacrificed in great number and the blood was used as a ritual anointment. The control over the sacred animals was very rigorous. Shepherds had to preserve every last part of any animal that died and present a full animal to the Inca or risk severe punishment. Among the food products made from the Peruvian camelids was "sharqui", strips of freeze dried meat, the origin of modern-day jerky. The meat of the common folk was the "cuy", the guinea pig. They were domesticated by 2000 BC and were easy to keep and multiplied rapidly. Guinea pigs were often cooked by stuffing hot stones inside them. The entrails would often be used as an ingredient in soups along with potatoes, or made into a sauce. They could also be employed for divination, which later brought them into disfavor by the Catholic church. [Coe p. 171-175]

There was game in the form of the wild camelids vicuña and guanaco, whitetail deer, huemul deer and viscacha, a kind of chinchilla which was hunted with lassos. Hunting rights were controlled by the state and any meat would go into the state warehouses for storage. There were massive royal hunts where hunting teams would force huge herds into enclosures and there are reports of several thousand animals being caught in a single great hunt, including puma, bear, fox and deer. [Coe p. 176-7]

One of the mainstays of the Inca army, and of the general population, was dried fish. Limpets, skates, rays, small sharks of the genus "Mustelus", mullets and bonito were among the fish caught off the Peruvian coast. Other sea creatures like seabirds, penguins, sea lions and dolphins were eaten and so were various chitons, mussels, "chanque" (an abalone-like animal) and various crustaceans. Like other American peoples the Inca ate animals that were often considered to be vermin by many Europeans, like frogs, caterpillars, beetles and ants. Mayfly larvae were eaten raw or toasted and ground to make loaves that could then be stored. [Coe p. 177-8]

Food preparation

Cooking was often done by putting hot stones in cooking vessels [Coe p. 175] and there was extensive use of the "huatia", a type of earth oven and the paila, an earthenware bowl.

The Inca often got through times of food shortage because they were able to preserve and store many of their crops. It is estimated that at any given time in Incan history, there were three to seven years worth of food in the state warehouses. In the high elevations of the Andes, setting out potatoes and similar tubers out in the dry days and cold nights would freeze-dry them in a matter of days. The farmers would help the process by covering the crops to protect them from dew, and by stomping on them to release the excess water quickly. In addition to fruits, vegetables and roots, the Inca also preserved meat by drying and salting it, making for complete nutritional stores. These food preservation techniques, combined with their far-reaching road system, allowed the Inca Empire to easily withstand droughts and to have the means to feed a standing army. [Popenoe et al. 1989]

ee also

*Bolivian cuisine
*Chilean cuisine
*Ecuadorian cuisine
*Peruvian cuisine



*Coe, Sophie D. (1994) "America's first cuisines" ISBN 0-292-71159-X
*Popenoe, Hugh, Steven R. King, Jorge Leon, Luis Sumar Kalinowski, and Noel D. Vietmeyer (1989) "Lost Crops of the Incas" ISBN 0-309-04264-X

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