Peru Native to Peru, lucuma is a fruit that's has been used in Peruvian food for centuries. Photo: Paul Jones

Published on April 7th, 2013 | by admin

Native to Peru, lucuma is a fruit that's has been used in Peruvian food for centuries. Photo: Paul Jones

5 Traditional Peruvian Food Ingredients You’ve Got To Taste


Foreign travel always has its culinary surprises, and Peru is no different. With a landscape that offers an incredible 90 different micro-climates, Peru has the ability to produce a far greater number of unique ingredients than most other countries. For example, what other country has over 4,000 varieties of potato? Where else can you find more than 35 different types of maize? Mix all this culinary potential with some unique traditions and cultures, and Peru offers visitors the chance to experience a whole plethora of interesting foods, flavors and ingredients.

On the whole, Peruvian cooking is not so radical that you wouldn’t want to delve in. In fact, with such a range of flavorsome and fresh produce on offer, Peruvian food is starting to prove quite popular. So much so that last year at the World Travel Awards held in Delhi, Peru fought off competition from Japan, France, Italy and Thailand to win the award of “World’s Best Culinary Destination 2012.”

If you’re planning on traveling to Peru, here are 5 traditional ingredients you must try.

Found growing in the cool sub-tropical Peruvian Highlands, lucuma is a fruit native to Peru. It has been a staple part of the region’s diet for thousands of years, and representations of the fruit have been found on ceramics dating back as far as the Moche period (100 – 300 A.D.). Unlike most fruits, its yellow flesh is dry and starchy, yet has a melt-on-the tongue texture as you eat it. The taste is difficult to exactly pinpoint, but could be described as a mix of maple and sweet pumpkin. Rarely eaten raw, lucuma is used by Peruvians to flavor puddings, desserts and ice cream.

There is no way to sugar coat it: Cuy, one of the Andes’ most popular dishes, is better known to you and me as guinea pig. Once eaten only by Inca nobles, cuy is still popular in most highland communities including big cities like Arequipa and Cusco. It’s such a celebrated and important animal that in Cusco Cathedral, there is a painting of the last supper that depicts Jesus and his 12 disciples eating cuy. Cooked whole (complete with head and legs) cuy is traditionally fried, oven baked and even cooked on a spit like a suckling pig. If the thought of seeing the whole animal arrive on your plate isn’t very appetizing, you might want to try it as a filling in a Peruvian causa.

Not to be mistaken with the yucca plant, this widely used tuberous root vegetable is thought to have originated in Brazil or Paraguay. Largely unknown or used by the western world, yuca grows in the sub-tropical climates of the Andes. Long and tapered in shape, the yuca has a thick fibrous skin and a white (often slightly yellow) starchy flesh. Forming part of the staple diet in Peru, the yuca root is very similar in taste to potato, and is usually cooked by boiling or frying it. Fried yuca is often an accompaniment to Peruvian ceviche, and some restaurants may serve it as an entrée, stuffing it with cheese before breading and frying it.

Maiz morado is a popular ingredient used in Peruvian food. Photo: Paul Jones

Maiz morado, a variety of corn, is a popular ingredient used in Peruvian food. Photo: Paul Jones

Maiz Morado
Maiz morado is a variety of corn that has been cultivated in the Peruvian Highlands since ancient times. Easily recognizable by its deep purple color, the corn is principally used to color drinks and food. Maiz morado is considered to have powerful antioxidant properties, and a recent scientific study in Japan showed that it can also help reduce obesity. Some North American pharmaceutical companies have even extracted its properties offering all its benefits in tablet form. In Peru, the corn is often boiled along with sugar and cinnamon to make the popular drink chicha morada.

Classified by the United Nations as a super crop for its incredible nutritional value, quinoa has always played a vital role in the Andean diet. The small bead-shaped grain, which thrives at high elevations, is considered high in protein, containing all eight amino acids, plus calcium, phosphorus and Iron. Expanding to over 3 times its original size when boiled; Peruvians eat quinoa as a breakfast cereal, in main dishes, soups and salads. Furthermore, when ground into a powder it can also be used for baking breads, biscuits and cakes. Quinoa is also gluten and cholesterol-free, and is the food of choice for many vegetarians.

Paul Jones, originally from Bristol, England, is the managing director of Totally Latin America S.A., a travel agency that specializes in Peru vacation packages. His love for travel started several years ago, after spending one year backpacking around Latin America. In recent years, his expert knowledge has been put to good use helping travelers from around the world create unique and exciting trips to Peru. He has lived in Cusco, Peru for seven years and is married to a local Cusqueñan.

More Peru travel info:
Travel Adventures in Peru’s Huascarán National Park
Unique Peruvian Cuisine: Foods You Can Only Eat in the Andes
Pisco: How to Pour the Nectar of the Peruvian Gods into your Peru Vacation

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