No trip to Peru would be complete without trying some of the local beverages!
Even if you aren’t planning on visiting Peru anytime soon, you can still imbibe some of the local specialties in the comfort of your own home.
You may have even encountered Peruvian drinks without even realizing it. The popularity of Peru’s food and drink has spread throughout the world, and many bars and restaurants have started to feature these delicious potables on menus.
Read on to find out more about these tasty drinks and why you should give them a try.
What Do They Drink in Peru?
Before we dive into the specifics of various drinks, let’s touch on the beverage culture of Peru in general. Many Peruvian drinks are created from ingredients that are easily accessible there, such as fresh fruit, corn, and local herbs.
While some are alcoholic, there are also plenty of non-alcoholic options available for consumption.
Some of the most popular drinks in Peru, such as pisco cocktails, are readily available in bars, restaurants, and shops. However, many of the more traditional beverages are best acquired from transient street vendors who only seem to show up at night, or from local fruit stalls.
Some beverages, like chicha de jora, are found being sold out of kitchens or out the back door of homes.
Many Peruvian specialties, like emoliente or mate de caco, are considered by locals to have healing and restorative properties. While some drinks are emphasized for social consumption and are best enjoyed in the company of family and friends, others are hailed for their medicinal qualities and sought out to ward off sickness.
Of the beverages that are unique to Peru, many find their origins dating back to the Incan empire. These recipes have hardly changed over the years, and you can still enjoy these libations that were part of traditional ceremonies and festivals hundreds of years ago.
To find out more about these delightful must-try drinks of Peru, read on below!
1. The Pisco Sour is the National Drink of Peru
Pisco is made in both Peru and Chile and the two resulting liquors are quite distinct. Peruvian pisco is typically either sourced from a single variety of grape (Puro) or a blend of grapes (Acholado) including Muscat, Albilla, Italia, Mollar, Quebranta, Common Black, and Torontel.
Peru’s pisco is distilled only once, in a copper pot, and then rests in a glass or metal container for a minimum of three months.
To make the Peruvian style of pisco sour, you only need a few ingredients. It has a base of pisco; then add some lime juice, simple syrup, an egg white, and a dash of Angostura bitters.
All the ingredients are shaken vigorously, which will make the egg white become frothy and give the cocktail a thicker, foamy texture.
Pisco sours can be served with or without ice, and generally come with a dash of Angostura bitters on top as a garnish. It is a great cocktail to enjoy on a summer evening, with its refreshing taste being both a little sweet and a little tart.
2. Peru’s Chicha Morada is a Ubiquitous Refreshing Drink
If you want to indulge in a true Peruvian beverage but don’t want the alcohol of a pisco sour, consider the chicha morada. This iconic non-alcoholic drink is a beautiful deep purple color and is enjoyed by Peruvians of all social strata. It can be purchased premade in supermarkets or brewed at home.
The taste of chicha morada is mildly sweet and fruity but with a nice earthy component due to added spices like cinnamon and clove. If you want a crisp, invigorating drink, look no further than chicha morada.
Chicha morada is easily available from online retailers in either premade form or a powdered mix, but for those looking to try their hand at brewing chicha morada at home, a recipe can be found here.
3. The Chilcano is a Simple, Chic Peruvian Cocktail
While chilcano can also refer to a Peruvian soup made of fish heads, the chilcano we’re interested in for this article is the spritely and refreshing Peruvian cocktail. It’s remarkably similar to the aforementioned pisco sour, but the chilcano comes with a unique fizz and a bit of a bite that sets it apart.
In addition, the chilcano is easier to make than a pisco sour, so it’s perfect so anyone who’s looking for a fuss-free delicious drink.
The base liquor of a chilcano is pisco, the slightly fruity brandy that is the pride of Peru. Add to this a bit of lime juice, top with ginger ale, and garnish with a dash of Angostura bitters, and you’re set!
The lime juice and ginger ale give the chilcano a snappy taste that balances the sweetness of the pisco perfectly and makes for a refreshing libation.
While the chilcano cocktail’s origins aren’t exactly known, some think it may have come about in the 1800s as a play on a drink called the Buongiorno. The Buongiorno was brought to Peru by Italians and was a mix of grappa and ginger ale.
By substituting pisco, the local liquor, for the Italian grappa, you find yourself with the beginnings of a chilcano.
The chilcano is great for anyone who likes cocktails that predominately feature ginger, such as a Moscow mule, or for those looking for a crisp, bright drink to start (or end) the night.
Feel free to experiment and find your perfect chilcano, but don’t forget to enjoy a taste of the original Peruvian classic!
If you like the Chilcano, you may want to take a Bar Crawl Through South America.
4. Inca Kola is Peru’s Most Popular Soft Drink
Also known as the Golden Kola, Inca Kola is a wildly popular Peruvian soft drink that has been enjoying an expanding distribution in the United States and worldwide. It can be found at specialty supermarkets and online too.
The unique drink was first created in Lima, Peru, in 1935 by Jose and Martha Lindley, who had a shop selling homemade carbonated beverages and decided to make a drink to celebrate the anniversary of Lima’s founding.
Although Continental Food and Beverage, Inc, the main distributor of Inca Kola, states that the secret recipe of exotic flavor combinations results in everyone tasting a different flavor, many consider the flavor to be reminiscent of sweet and sugary bubblegum.
It gets its nickname from its bright fluorescent yellow color and is often marketed as “the Pride of Peru” and “the taste of Peru.” In fact, Inca Kola has long been promoted via patriotic campaigns that emphasize its Peruvian origins and helped it find a place of pride among many Peruvian consumers.
With its strong ties to the Peruvian national identity, Inca Kola has enjoyed remarkable success that has led it to be considered to be the ideal accompaniment to a traditional Peruvian meal, especially since its flavors are considered to pair nicely with Peruvian cuisine.
Inca Kola is one of few local soft drink companies that are able to boast it outsells Coca-Cola products in its home territory.
In fact, the fast-food chain McDonald’s broke its exclusivity contract with Coca-Cola in order to be able to sell both Coke and Inca Kola in Peruvian restaurant locations. Inca Kola is truly a soft drink in a league of its own and is worth trying.
5. Chicha de Jora is a Unique Beer from the Andes
If you are looking for a beer that is definitely a diversion from traditional lagers and stouts, look no further than chicha de jora.
Considered to be the favored beverage by Inca nobility, chicha de jora was thought to be discovered by accident after a rainstorm flooded a silo of corn and created fermented malt.
Chicha de jora was an important part of Incan religious ceremonies and featured prominently in many culturally significant festivities.
When Spanish explorers arrived, Incan leaders offered the Dominican priest Vincente de Valverde chicha de jora, which he poured out without tasting, thinking the Inca were trying to poison him.
Ironically, the act of pouring chicha de jora onto the ground is actually an Inca tradition for starting a conversation.
Chicha de jora is made from fermented yellow corn and malt sugars. It tends to have a relatively low alcohol content, between 1-3%, and a cloudy, pale yellow color. Chica de jora has a slightly sour aftertaste, leading some to compare it to hard apple cider.
If you are looking for authentic chicha de jora, it can be found all over Peru from various sorts of vendors. Traditionally, it is sold in places called a chicheria.
Chicherias are essentially family-run taverns, often unlicensed, and often run out of a spare room or kitchen. Chicherias will hoist a red or blue flag over the door to alert patrons of when fresh chicha de jora is available.
When the beer runs out, the flag comes down until a new batch is ready.
6. Chicha de Frutilla is the Sweeter, Pinker Cousin of Chicha de Jora
Once you’ve tried chicha de jora, you may feel compelled to seek out its lesser-known variation, the chicha de frutilla.
Like chicha de jora, chicha de frutilla is most commonly homemade but it can also be found in select restaurants. The best chance of finding chicha de frutilla is in the Sacred Valley region of Peru.
Chicha de frutilla features the addition of strawberries, which Peru has in abundance. In fact, in 2019 Peru exported over $15 million dollars worth of strawberries to the United States alone. It is fitting that this ubiquitous fruit would find its way into a national beverage.
The same fermented corn beginnings are used as a base for chicha de frutilla, but the addition of strawberries and extra sugar gives it a less sour, more sweet taste than chicha de jora. The strawberries also impart the drink with a lovely soft pink color.
Like chicha de jora, chicha de frutilla is often served in a very large glass with a thick layer of foam on top. It’s a distinctive concoction that is a definite must-try for anyone looking for a Peruvian specialty.
7. Surrounded in Controversy, Mate de Coca is a Unique Peruvian Tea
Mate de Coca is considered a traditional Incan herbal tea made by steeping coca leaves in hot water. It is often used as a treatment for altitude sickness, making it popular among those who regularly trek the Andes, as well being used as a treatment to dispel fatigue and headaches. It tastes similar to green tea.
Since it is derived from coca leaves, mate de coca contains alkaloids. These alkaloids are what make coca leaves the prime ingredient for cocaine.
While mate de coca is perfectly legal in Peru, the same is not true in other countries and it is often viewed with the same restrictions that apply to cocaine.
Many tea distributors have commercially offered mate de coca with the claim that the tea was decocainized in production, but recent scientific reports have proven this claim to be generally false. Mate de coca is, therefore, a mild stimulant, but it is unlikely that you will feel much of a negative effect even after two or three cups.
However, if you happen to have to take a drug screening test after enjoying a cup of mate de coca, be aware that you may test positive for cocaine.
One study demonstrated that an average cup of Peruvian mate de coca contained 4.14mg of cocaine, which was well enough to elicit a positive drug test after ingesting a single cup of tea, even up to 36 hours after consumption.
That being said, mate de coca is still considered a traditional medicinal drink in Peru and enjoys a large amount of popularity, and it is worth trying by anyone wanting a unique, traditional beverage.
8. The Medicinal Properties of Emoliente Make it a Part of Peruvian Lifestyle
For those looking for a truly Peruvian experience, look no further than a steaming cup of emoliente.
This herbaceous tea is immensely popular during the colder seasons and is considered to have a number of healing qualities to help ward of sickness and speed recovery.
Emoliente is frequently sold by street vendors in Lima, called emolienteras, who will ask consumers if they prefer a warm or hot cup. Some vendors will even have various blends of emoliente that are meant to address particular ailments, and each street vendor serves his or her own secret recipe.
The main ingredients of emoliente include a blend of herbs and grains, including toasted barley, flaxseed, dried horsetail, and plantain leaves. Those preparing emoliente will vary the recipe, often adding honey or other sweeteners, citrus juice, or even bits of fruit.
The beverage has been sold by emolienteras for over a century, and the popularity of this cure-all beverage isn’t waning anytime soon.
In fact, some newer bars like La Emolienteria in Miraflores boast menus featuring emoliente blended into cocktails, many of which also contain pisco, Peru’s popular brandy liquor.
If you’re looking to try a beverage that is consumed by Peruvians of all walks of life, consider the humble emoliente. It has been described as a “hot, fruity, slimy, and semi-sparkly beverage,” and is truly a quirky taste worth trying.
9. Peru’s Local Beer Brands Offer a Brew for Every Taste
Although Peru holds pisco in a place of high esteem when it comes to local alcoholic beverages, it would be remiss to overlook Peru’s beer culture. There are several main beers in Peru that are widely available:
- Cusquena: a premium beer brand that makes a variety of beers including a Golden Lager, a Red Lager, a Wheat Beer, and a Dark Lager
- Cristal: considered Peru’s top-selling beer, it is a pale lager with an ABV of 5%
- Pilsen Callao: brewed in the Pilsner style, with an ABV of 5.2%
As such, beer preferences are often linked to regions rather than brand loyalty. Some brews also have sponsorship deals for soccer clubs, so some beer is preferred due to its link to a favored team.
These craft beers can be found in local Peruvian bars on tap and also bottled, although distribution varies from brewery to brewery.
Peru has beer-drinking customs, as well. One tradition is sharing one drinking glass within a group. In a group of people, one person will start by pouring a glass of beer and handing the bottle to the next person.
The first person will finish the glass of beer, then hand the glass to the waiting friend with the bottle. A new glass is poured, the bottle is passed, and the glass is then drank and then continually passed to the next person in the group until the bottle is empty.
So, not only is beer a massively popular drink in Peru, but it is also often consumed in social settings while observing traditional drinking customs that make it feel even more distinctly Peruvian.
10. Jugo Especial is a Special Juice Available from Peruvian Fruit Vendors
Peru is renowned for its abundant fresh fruit, so it comes as no surprise that freshly squeezed juice is widely available. You can find juices made from bananas, passion fruit, guava, pineapple, and more, often sweetened with honey and fruit nectar.
However, there is one type of juice that is unique to Peru, and that is the jugo especial, which literally means “special juice.” You will find it being sold by street vendors and in fruit stalls.
While the recipe changes from vendor to vendor, most feature a blend of fresh juice along with an egg, milk, some spices, and algarrobina syrup.
Algarrobina is a Peruvian carob that is at the heart of jugo especial, and the syrup derived from it has a sticky sweet flavor with a hint of tannins. It is frequently substituted in recipes that call for honey or molasses.
It’s so popular, in fact, that you can even find an Algarrobina Frappuccino on Peruvian Starbucks’s menus.
Some jugo especial recipes also include Cusquena beer, but this is optional. Whatever the blend of ingredients, jugo especial tends to consistently result in a beverage that is thick and filling, almost more of a meal than a drink.
It is definitely worth trying for anyone wanting a truly Peruvian beverage.
11. Peruvian Wine Has Grown in Popularity in the Past Decade
When considering wines, Peru is usually not top of the list for New World wines of South America, but this is changing.
While Argentina and Chile have earned a reputation for producing flavorful and consistent wines, Peru is now catching up and it is not uncommon to find delicious Peruvian wines available worldwide.
A lot of the shifting in wine quality comes directly from local vineyards consulting French winemakers in order to improve their product.
For example, the Santiago Queirolo vineyards of Ica, Peru, consulted Edmundo Bordeu and Jacques Blouin in the early 2000s and has since started producing favorable wines with ten different varietals of grapes.
Another winemaker of note in Peru is the Apu Winery, which is currently vying for the title of the world’s highest winery.
The vineyards are located at 2850 and 3300 meters above sea level, which is an impressive feat for winemakers and gives a unique terroir that differentiates the wines from competitors.
While most Peruvians still drink beer or pisco over wine, that trend may be changing in the near future as the country begins to produce more appealing wines and distribution expands.
12. Limonada Peruana is a Peruvian Take on Lemonade
Sometimes there is nothing better on a hot summer day than a crisp, refreshing glass of lemonade, and Peru has its own version of this hot-weather classic.
Traditional lemonade is made with lemons and a large amount of white sugar.
Since limes are more easily available in Peru than lemons, the Peruvian take on this classic beverage replaces the lemons with limes.
Specifically, limonada peruana uses the small Peruvian limes that are native and abundant in the region. Also, instead of white sugar, limonada peruana typically favors the addition of a little bit of brown sugar.
Limonada peruana tends to be a bit more tart than most American lemonades, which often have large quantities of sugar, however, the recipe can change based on personal taste preference.
Served over ice, limonada peruana is a light, refreshing non-alcoholic drink that is perfect for a hot afternoon.
13. Algarrobina Cocktails Utilize a Native Peru Ingredient
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sweet, molasses-like syrup has also lends itself beautifully to creating delicious and unique cocktails.
Similar to egg nog, a cocktail de algarrobina is a rich, dairy-based cocktail that is often enjoyed around holidays.
According to Morena Cuadros, author of The Everything Peruvian Cookbook, it is thought that during Colonial times Spanish monks in Peru made an alcoholic punch using eggs, milk, and wine.
The wine was eventually replaced with rum, then the local Pisco, and eventually the cocktail de algarrobina was born.
While this cocktail traditionally called for fresh milk, the lack of availability in more remote locales of Peru led to the substitution of shelf-stable condensed milk and evaporated milk, also giving the cocktail a much sweeter taste.
The algarrobina syrup is what really sets this cocktail apart, however, giving it a sweet taste with a hint of tannins.
The basic recipe calls for
- Evaporated milk and/or condensed milk
- Algarrobina syrup
- Cinnamon powder to garnish
Popular twists include using other warm spices, such as cloves or anise. You can even leave out the pisco and make a non-alcoholic version so those of all ages can enjoy.
A big batch of cocktail de algarrobina is a great addition to any holiday party.
Final Thoughts on Peruvian Drinks
The beverages of Peru are deeply tied to the history and the culture of the country and trying these drinks can offer a unique look into the country that produces them.
From alcoholic to non-alcoholic, sweet to sour, refreshing to medicinal, there’s truly a Peruvian beverage to satisfy all taste palettes. There’s no reason not to go out and try one (or two, or three!) of these Peruvian libations.
And if you admittedly have a sweet tooth be sure to check out 9 Peruvian Desserts to Die For!
To bring home the best imported Peruvian foods and drinks visit our online store today.
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