What Is Chicha Morada? A Purple Corn Drink with Health Benefits
If you're tired of lemon water, coffee, and tea, change up your beverage game with this chicha morada recipe. We asked registered dietitians about the health benefits of this Peruvian purple corn drink, and how to make it.
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The many colors of corn
Corn is an American food staple, of course. Not only is it one of the healthiest vegetables, but there are tons of ways to cook it.
Many people know it best from the yellow- and white-kernel varieties that are commonly grown in the U.S. But it doesn’t stop there. There are also orange, blue, and purple types of corn that are grown in various regions 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 mountain region of Peru. The unique variety of purple corn used for the beverage is ckolli.
According to registered dietician and nutritionist Lisa DeFazio of Los Angeles, ckolli corn has a tart flavor that’s ideal for drinks and desserts.
The centuries-old Peruvian food staple dates as far back as the Incan civilization, according to Peruvian registered dietitian Melissa Solano in Sacramento, California.
“Nowadays, you can find chicha morada in 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 ritualistic ceremonies, notes author and Westchester, New York-based registered dietitian Malina Malkani.
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 types of corn, and they all come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, Solano says.
Each household has a favorite recipe, so some ingredients may vary. The most important 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?
Purple corn benefits
Purple corn gets its bright color from the phytochemicals present in the corn. “The purple color is due to the anthocyanin content in the corn,” according to 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. These antioxidants not only 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, based in Detroit. It may also support heart health and healthy blood pressure, per Malkani.
Additional health benefits
Although purple corn is the main ingredient in chicha morada, the mix-ins boost this beverage’s nutritional value.
“Adding crushed pineapple and apple instead of pineapple and apple juice will also boost the amount of dietary fiber, potassium (a key mineral to help manage hypertension), and vitamin C,” Drago says. Plus, the cinnamon and clove herbs and spices in the drink have anti-inflammatory effects as well, Acharya adds.
Where to find purple corn
If you can’t find Peruvian purple corn, do not use other types of corn as a substitute. No other corn can produce the correct color, taste, or aroma, DeFazio says. Check your local international food store. You can also buy purple corn online or even premade chicha morada.
Here’s a chicha morada recipe from Acharya that you can make at home.
Chicha morada recipe
1 cup of purple corn kernels
16 cups of water
2 cinnamon sticks
6-7 whole cloves
1 apple, diced
1 pineapple, diced with peel saved
1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of lime juice
Pinch of salt
Combine all the ingredients except the diced pineapple, diced apple, and lime juice in a large pot and bring to a boil.
Once the mixture is boiling, simmer it for about an hour. After an hour, remove it from the heat, strain it in a bowl, and allow it to come to room temperature.
Once it cools, mix in the diced apple and pineapple, and lime juice. Serve chilled.
- Lisa DeFazio, MS, RD a leading nutrition expert, Los Angeles
- Melissa Solano, MS, RDN, an experienced bilingual nutrition professional, Sacramento
- Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, creator of Solve Picky Eating, Westchester, New York
- Lorena Drago, MS, RDN, CDN, CDCES, New York
- Bansari Acharya, MS, RDN, Detriot
- Nutrients: "Dietary Anthocyanins against Obesity and Inflammation"
- USDA: "Purple Corn Offers Benefits Inside and Out"