The many colors of corn
Corn is, of course, an American food staple. Not only is it one of the healthiest vegetables, but there are countless ways to cook it.
Many people know it best from the yellow and white seed varieties commonly grown in the US. But it doesn’t stop there. There are also orange, blue and purple varieties of corn that are grown in different parts of the world.
In fact, purple corn has a rich history as part of a popular Peruvian drink called chicha morada.
What is chicha morada?
Chicha morada is a cold, sweet drink from the Andes Mountains in Peru. The unique variety of purple corn used for the drink is ckolli.
According to registered dietitian and nutritionist Lisa DeFazio of Los Angeles, ckolli corn has a tart flavor that is ideal for drinks and desserts.
According to Peruvian registered dietitian Melissa Solano in Sacramento, California, the ancient Peruvian food staple dates back to the Inca civilization.
“Today you can find chicha morada on the menus of Peruvian bars and restaurants or in Peruvian homes at gatherings,” she says.
It plays an important social and cultural role, and it’s also often consumed during festivals and ritual ceremonies, notes author and registered dietitian Malina Malkani of Westchester, New York.
Chicha morada ingredients
The main ingredient in chicha morada is purple corn. According to Solano, this corn is also in recipes for other staples like mazamorra morada (purple corn pudding). Fun fact: Peru grows about 55 varieties of corn, and they all come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, Solano says.
Every household has a favorite recipe, so some ingredients may vary. The main ones are purple corn, sugar, limes, cinnamon and cloves.
Other variations include pineapple, apples and lemon juice, according to New York-based registered dietitian Lorena Drago.
What are the health benefits of chicha morada?
Benefits of purple corn
Purple corn gets its bright color from the phytochemicals present in the corn. “The purple color is due to the anthocyanin content in the maize,” says Solano. “Anthocyanins are antioxidants, which help protect against cellular damage from free radicals,” she says.
In fact, corn is one of the best antioxidant-rich foods. Not only do these antioxidants provide corn’s bright color, but they also contribute to its anti-inflammatory effects, according to a 2017 study published in the journal nutrients.
Because purple corn contains these compounds, there are many potential health benefits. Purple corn may reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including: reducing the risk of certain cancers, obesity and reducing the incidence of diabetes, according to registered dietitian Bansari Acharya, who is based in Detroit. It may also support heart health and healthy blood pressure, according to Malkani.
Additional health benefits
Although purple corn is the main ingredient in chicha morada, the mix-ins increase the nutritional value of this drink.
“Adding crushed pineapple and apple instead of pineapple and apple juice will also increase the amount of dietary fiber, potassium (an important mineral to help manage hypertension), and vitamin C,” says Drago. In addition, the cinnamon and clove herbs and spices in the drink also have anti-inflammatory effects, adds Acharya.
Where to find purple corn?
If you can’t find Peruvian purple corn, don’t use other types of corn as a substitute. No other corn can produce the right color, taste, or smell, DeFazio says. Check your local international food store. You can also buy purple corn online or even premade chicha morada.
Here is a chicha morada recipe from Acharya that you can make at home.
Chicha morada recipe
1 cup purple corn kernels
16 cups of water
2 cinnamon sticks
6-7 whole cloves
1 apple, diced
1 pineapple, diced with skin preserved
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup lime juice
Pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients except the diced pineapple, diced apple and lime juice in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
Once the mixture boils, let it simmer for about an hour. After an hour, remove it from the heat, strain it into a bowl and let it come to room temperature.
When cool, mix in the diced apple and pineapple and the lime juice. Serve cool.