When research meets beer

By Jennifer Ludbrook

After many years of excessive beer drinking, U of C students may be looking to replace their over-imbibed Canadian and Corona with something new and unique. Dr. Lidio Valdez, adjunct professor of Archaeology at the University of Alberta, suggested Wednesday at a Department of Anthropology colloquium, that chicha may be the answer to North American beer boredom.

An unusually-produced, fermented alcohol, chicha was originally known to Peru’s indigenous populations as aqa or kusa. Only after the arrival of the Spaish in Latin America was chicha given its modern name. Derived from the Spanish word “chichal” meaning “saliva,” chicha was first produced using none other than human spit to encourage fermentation.

Dating back as far as 1,500 years, chicha, or corn beer, has long been culturally important to the indigenous people of Peru’s Andean region. Aside from the obvious perks, chicha served as a cornerstone of ancient Andean and Inca societies. The significance of chicha can be seen in virtually all facets of indigenous Andean culture both before and after the Spanish conquest of South America. According to Dr. Valdez, chicha played a vital role in ceremonies, social events, political negotiations, religious affairs and even labour.

“Chicha was used in almost every activity,” he remarked. “Without chicha it was impossible to do almost anything.”

Dr. Valdez has spent recent years excavating an apparent pre-Inca chicha factory at a newly-unearthed archaeological site in the Peruvian highlands. Numerous polished grinding stones and large depressions worn in stone blocks suggest that this site was particularly important in producing the raw materials needed to make this vital alcohol.

“It is clear that there was intensive grinding of corn at this site,” commended Valdez. “I think the best idea is that they were making chicha because it requires a large amount of crushed corn.”

Even in modern Peru, said Dr. Valdez, chicha is a powerful part of everyday life.

“If you walk into any home in rural Peru today, the first thing you will see is large pottery vessels used for making alcohol. Chicha is still a meaningful part of local fiestas throughout the Andean region.”

For the average Canadian university student, chicha may not be a common part of weekend activities, but for those with an adventurous streak, perhaps a little saliva-fermented liquor is the key to breaking the monotony of the same old brew.

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