The Ambrosias of Latin America: Fermented Natural Drinks

Picture by: Anthony Tong Lee 

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Procuring a healthy food intake in your daily life can sometimes become a difficult task. This, in part, has to do with the ease of eating industrial foods. Eating and drinking convenience meals is very common in this modern world, but we all know the dangers of consuming too much of it. 

What’s so hard about turning our backs from processed foods is not their cheap costs, is that most of it tastes good! Yet, these flavors we’ve grown to like are no more than artificial additives full of extra fats. And there’s something in common between these types of fats and industrial foods: They won’t go away fast. Most of the groceries stored in your kitchen will last as long as some fats in your body. 

This is mostly applicable to many drinks and beverages we’re likely to consume daily. Many sodas and juices have significant percentages of artificial additives to maintain their flavor and appearance. Adding these components extends their shelf life and makes them way more marketable, but the unhealthy effects caused by some preservatives in many popular drinks is a serious issue.

The best way to improve something is to retrace your steps first and look back at the past. The food industry is familiar with this, given their tendency to revise old recipes. For instance, one of the oldest ways to preserve drinks is what made beers such a basic drink for everyone. And we have nothing else to thank for this but the mighty process of fermentation.

Fermentation: an Ancient and Cultural Process

To this day, we are familiar with this word related to the manufacture of cheese, beer, wine, and certain meats. But before the industrial ages, fermentation was one of the few ways to enhance the flavor of many foods and drinks. 

This process consists of using microorganisms to transform the chemical composition of foods. What happens is the rupture of all starch and sugars due to the presence of beneficial bacteria. This process causes the formation of Lactic Acid, which stops the growth of nocive bacteria and gives the food its lasting properties. What’s great about fermentation is its ability to be a supplement of extra vitamins and proteins.

Food fermentation has always been a cultural affair throughout history—the methods of preparation and the ingredients used change from place to place. As a result, there are many fermented products of ancient origin, meaningful to its people. Since many recipes have not changed from their original formula, most fermented meals and drinks of the world are now part of the culinary identity of their place of birth.

Latin America has lots of culinary diversity, most of it coming from its early natives. They were responsible for keeping ancient recipes as a legacy from their ancestors. As expected, many Latin American cultures are well-versed in the art of fermentation. This is on account of their local raw materials with fermenting agents. Their properties bring the best of the natural flavors that represent the region.

But the magic of Latin American fermentation is in their drinks. Not only for their taste but for how much they mean to their people. Most of these drinks are a sweet glimpse of the day-to-day basis in Latin American cultures. They are easy to make and do not need many ingredients, so it is natural to see them in most households and restaurants.

We’ll dive into some of the most popular fermented drinks we can find in Latin countries:

Chicha de Jora

Picture by: Jhonatan Olmedo

Chicha de Jora is the oldest and most important beverage in Latin America. Its origins date back to the 15th century, in the Andean regions. While there are many types of Chichas in the continent, this Andean version is the most traditional variation. It is more or less a semi-alcoholic beer. The principal ingredient is Malted Corn.

At first, the corn needs to soak in water for one or two days and then left to germinate for more than ten days. After that, the sprouted grains are boiled for 6 to 24 hours with some herbs, like cinnamon and cloves. Once done, the final liquid cools down with some unrefined sugar and left to ferment in a clay pot for one week.

Its yellow and sparkling look resembles beers, but it tastes like bittersweet cider.

Masato

This drink is vital in the diet of the indigenous populations of the Amazonian region of Peru. It is popular in all of South America, yet each area uses a different ingredient to ferment the drink. The traditional Masato is a drink made with cooked and crushed sweet cassava roots.

For fermentation, the mashed cassava needs to stay in water for three to six days. Leaving it in water will make the natural sugars out of the starch from the cassava to emerge. This process produces alcohol that ferments the drink. In modern times, many people add yeast or sugar to help the process of fermentation.

Its white appearance gives away its bitter and yogurt-like flavor.

Cachaça

Cachaça is the most traditional liquor produced in Brazil. It comes from the distillation of fermented fresh sugarcane juice. Its history dates back to the colonizing era of the country when the production of sugar was starting. 

Originally, the drink came from the foam of boiling cane juice, which was then distilled and put in clay pots. The modern method to make Cachaça is not very different, but there are different beverage versions depending on its time bottled and stored.

For many, this beverage is some like a Brazilian rum for its strong aftertaste if it is aged. It is the main ingredient in many tropical drinks, such as the Caipirinha cocktail.

Champús

Champús is a low alcoholic drink from Colombia but is also popular in some regions of Peru and Ecuador. This drink is very particular for its multi-cereal composition, as it has wheat, rye, maize, or all of them. Other ingredients include pineapple slices, sugar cane syrup, cinnamon, and even orange tree leaves. 

Like any other fermented drink, the cereals first have to boil to get soft. Once softened and cooled, the rest of the ingredients are added to the mixture. The drink needs to rest for two days to allow the fermentation to occur.

Its popularity derives from the combination of sweet and acid flavors combined. It is also famous for its many nutritional properties, so many see it as a healthy cocktail.

Pozol

This Mexican drink is well-known within the states of Chiapas and Tabasco. It is the best Mexican comfort drink for people of all ages. Its origin dates back to Pre-Columbian Mexico, but the method of preparation has not changed much since then.

The first step is to boil maize kernels for up to fifteen hours so that it is soft enough to make corn dough with it. Once the dough is made, it has to be rolled into balls and wrapped in banana leaves to ferment it for seven days. Finally, the actual drink comes from soaking the dough in water, turning it into a kind of porridge. But the most popular way to drink it is by soaking the dough with milk, sugar, and cocoa, making the flavor much sweeter and better.

Latin America has many more fermented drinks and foods rich in flavor, texture, and actual nutritional value, and we’re advocates of all these natural choices. But it is vital to know they are not a less calorie substitute, but a pure and organic drink alternative. Consuming organic casual drinks can be a great personal step to lead our lives through healthier paths.

By Amalia

By Amalia

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