This is the second part of a two-part series on using archaeology to study alcohol production. To read the first part, click here.
In Central and South America today, the word chicha is used for a range of fermented and unfermented beverages; most commonly it refers to maize beer, but chicha can also be made from other grains, tubers and fruits. Archaeological evidence of chicha has been found at many sites in Peru, and has also been suggested for sites in Argentina, Mexico and Bolivia.
There are two main ways in which chicha is produced today: either the corn is either germinated and ground, or it is soaked and then chewed. In either approach, the idea is to use enzymes to start breaking down the starches into sugars for fermentation. If you germinate the corn, the enzymes are produced naturally and if you chew the grain, the enzymes are introduced from your saliva.
I started the experiment with some really beautiful purple corn which I soaked for 24 hours and then spread out on damp paper towel to start germination. Unfortunately, after seven days there were no signs of germination. I decided to try the mastication method with this corn instead, and so I mixed it with a little water and chewed it. Once the grain was chewed, I spat it out and formed little clumps of muko which I left to dry. Once again, however, my chicha making was foiled because the muko went mouldy.
With two failures under my belt, I turned once again to the germination method. This time, the corn that I used had already been malted (soaked and germinated) and roughly crushed. I ground the corn more finely with a rolling pin to produced a mixture of small and medium-sized pieces and a powder.
Once all the corn was ground, the corn was placed in a saucepan and covered with hot water. I put a lid on the saucepan and left it to soak for an hour. After the hour had passed, the corn smelled wonderful, very sweet and malty. I added more water to fill the saucepan and brought the mixture to the boil before lowering the temperature and letting it simmer for an hour.
Once the chicha was cool I transferred the liquid and half of the corn to a plastic container. The lid was left on loosely, and the chicha left to ferment. After three days, the chicha was bubbling and smelled sweet and tasted like watery corn.
Throughout the process, I took samples of the corn which can now be compared against archaeological samples. Hopefully having comparative samples like this will allow archaeologists to identify chicha production and consumption from residues found in different vessels.