On your trip to Peru, you will surely learn a lot about Incan history and many ways of life back then. You’ll also find out that many of the foods the people in the Andes today were eaten by the Incas many hundreds of years ago.
One fact that may surprise you is that the Incas invented a lot of techniques regarding food preservation that are still being used in this day and age. Read on to find out more.
A Bit of History
In the height of the reign of the Incas, they controlled a huge part of the land that incorporated a lot of what we now know as Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and even some of Colombia and Argentina. As you can see, they had a lot of influence.
This vast reach allowed them to be able to produce a wide variety of food and meant they had a lot to work with. They worried a lot about making sure that the whole population had enough food to eat and they invented varying ways to preserve food for long periods.
There’s no doubt that this culture enjoyed one of the most advanced and diverse food distribution and conservation systems in all the world at the time.
Benefits of These Techniques
There are huge advantages to being able to store food in large batches and keep them preserved. These being the fact that during large bouts of famine due to drought, they had enough food to send to areas that were badly affected and were without food.
They also put in to place a system similar to ‘loans’. This was where those who really needed food but didn’t have any, could take some and pay for it later.
An excellent fact is that if the Incan army were fighting, they would likely outlast the others just because they had so much food to keep them going and to give them the energy they needed.
A Closer Look at the Techniques
Agriculture was one of the most important parts of Incan life and they put great emphasis on the management of food supplies. In times when there was more than enough food to go around, they developed techniques to save it for when there wasn’t.
Let’s focus on the four main categories regarding the methods.
Food preserved in ‘Qollcas’
Some storage buildings were built into the side of steep hills. There was one in each community and they were responsible for their Qollca and preserving food in it. The air through valleys would make sure that things were kept cold and it was difficult for the storage rooms to get very warm with the wind that built up.
They also made sure that they put drainage systems in place so that all moisture in the room would trickle away and not damage the produce. The shape of the Qollcas differed depending on what was to be stored there.
This is a technique that is growing in popularity around the globe nowadays, and it’s incredible to think that the Incas used it so many years ago. It’s perfect for conserving nutrients and even reducing the weight of the food if it needed to be carried.
You can imagine those in the army or the Chaskis who ran from one village to the next, keeping this kind of food on them as it weighed next to nothing so it was easy to have on you. Today, this method is very popular with space traveling and camping.
There are two potatoes that are still frequently consumed today in the Andes that use this technique. They are Chuno and Moraya. You can try them on your trip to Peru and will find they have a unique taste but are very nice! You’ll easily find them when in Cusco or the Sacred Valley.
Have you ever tried jerky? Most people have at some point or another. Well this is smoked meat that has been dried out and can keep for a very long time. It’s been around since Incan times and was another popular way of conserving their food.
The word jerky actually comes from the Quechua name, which was ch’arki. Each region has a slightly different way of producing the meat. At lower altitudes it was more likely that they smoked and salted the meat. However, at higher altitudes, they often dried it using cold temperatures.
Another way they often used to preserve meats was with a lot of salt. They called this chalona. It can be prepared from any kind of meat like alpaca, beef, or lamb. A couple of methods that the Incas used to make chalona are still commonly used today and eaten by the folk in the Andes.
Keeping Traditions Alive
It’s easy to see that the Incas were very intelligent when it came to agriculture and conserving food for a long time. They worked out ways to make sure there was a good food supply all year round and that everyone had enough to eat.
The most amazing thing is that we still use the techniques today, and many of them are used worldwide. So, the next time you dig into a pack of jerky or pull something from the fridge, remember that the Incas were doing the same over 500 years ago. It’s quite incredible!
Written by: Liv Palmer