The Inca diet, for ordinary people, was largely vegetarian as meat – camelid, duck, guinea-pig, and wild game such as deer and the vizcacha rodent – was so valuable as to be reserved only for special occasions. More common was freeze-dried meat (ch’arki), which was a popular food when travelling.
The Inca civilization stretched across many regions, and so there was a great diversity of plants and animals used for food, many of which remain unknown outside Peru. The most important staples were various tubers, roots, and grains.
Yet the Incas, and the civilizations before them, coaxed harvests from the Andes’ sharp slopes and intermittent waterways. They developed resilient breeds of crops such as potatoes, quinoa and corn. They built cisterns and irrigation canals that snaked and angled down and around the mountains.
Incas would eat two meals a day and the mostly vegetarian diet would be full of potatoes, quinoa (a type of grain, pronounced: keen-wah), as well as maize (corn) and berries. The meat they did eat on a special occasion was guinea pig, llama, deer, duck and fish.
Chicha: The Drink of the Incas.
The Incans boiled, mashed, roasted, fermented in water to create a sticky toqosh, and ground to a pulp and soaked to create almidón de papa (potato starch). Peruvian potatoes soon formed the basis of the Incan diet, sustaining great cities and Incan armies.
When the Spanish arrived in the Incan Empire in 1528, they encountered a culture with highly sophisticated trade and agrarian systems. Most Peruvian cheese production takes place on a small-scale in home-based dairies where artisans convert fresh milk into a product with a longer shelf life.
According to Vega (1966 :501), in Inca society, peanuts were eaten toasted or combined with honey to make marzipan-like cakes.
And what crops: White, yellow and purple roots that taste like a blend of celery, cabbage and roast chestnuts. To them the Incas were backward, and they forced the Andean natives to replace crops that had held a valued place for thousands of years with European species like wheat, barley and carrots.
As well as using the food as a staple crop, the Incas thought potatoes made childbirth easier and used it to treat injuries. The Spanish conquistadors first encountered the potato when they arrived in Peru in 1532 in search of gold, and noted Inca miners eating chuñu.
The Incan aqueducts refer to any of a series of aqueducts built by the Inca people. The Inca built such structures to increase arable land and provide drinking water and baths to the population.
The only alcoholic beverage existing in the Inca’s times was “chicha”, mainly that of corn fermentation which was used under the ceremonial, ritual and convivial modalities.
Peru Coffee Beans – A Long and Storied History The incas and similar cultures within Peru have long viewed the humble coffee bean as a staple of life, along with Maize and other essential crops. The agricultural ecosystems of Peru were extremely advanced even in ancient times.
Chicha is an ancient beer traditionally made from chewed-up corn, saliva, and a few spices. Similar to Belgian beers, chicha is not a single, homogenized drink – there are variations native to each region and group.