These species of yeast can produce alcohol up to 4 percent in strength but, unlike S. cerevisiae, Candida dies when alcohol levels reach higher concentrations. S. cerevisiae is not common in the South American environment because it is most widely associated with oak trees, which are not indigenous to the region, so the Indians utilized Candida. "It is much better to have 3 to 4 percent alcohol than nothing," Carvajal says.
Caravajal fermented his own chicha from C. tropicalis that he resurrected from fermentation vessels taken from the tomb to relive the experience of these prehistoric Indians. "The flavor was very good. The aroma was very good. The alcohol was relatively good, but the effect was horrible. Just two drinks of this chicha and I had this bad headache typical of aldehydes and esters."
He also recovered Rhodotorula mucilaginosa from the ancient fermentation vessels. Although one of the most abundant yeast species, it does not produce alcohol, rather it is associated with flowering plants, evidence that the Quitus folded flowers into the brew for flavor enhancement—and most likely to increase the kick of their low-alcohol drink: Adding plants such as Datura produces psychotropic effects.
"Chicha must be drunk young, while it is still fermenting, because it quickly develops a rancid taste with time," Carvajal says. "But if you drink it too early in the fermentation process, you will experience food poisoning because the bacteria, amoeba and harmful yeasts have not yet been killed off by the alcohol."
After much searching, I was able to sample a modern version of chicha in Mama Clorinda Ecuadorian Food, a Quito restaurant. It was made from cooked corn, cinnamon, orange leaves, coriander and several other ingredients, including rotten pineapple skin added to initiate fermentation in the mix, which was contained in a plastic gallon-size jug. The cloudy yellow brew looked like a drink from an organic juice bar. It smelled of spicy cardamom and cinnamon, and fruity papya and fermented pineapple. It tasted delightful: lightly carbonated, with a sweet pineapple and papaya flavor, and a thick body and a clean finish.
"This is only about 2 to 3 percent alcohol," I was told by the restaurant manager, Roberto Guoma, "because we made it today. By tomorrow it will be 4 to 5 percent." The chef, Nelson Cardenas, who makes the chicha daily, generously provided his recipe for readers interested in brewing their own chicha, which uses rotten pineapple rind to initiate fermentation:
Recipe: Morocho Chicha
- 0.45 kilograms of morocho corn flour
- 500 grams of brown sugar (panela)
- Aromatic herbs (lemon verbena, cedron (quassia family, Simaroubaceae, native to Colombia and Central American), leaves of the orange tree
- 10 grams whole cloves
- Five grams cinnamon sticks
- Five grams allspice
- 250 grams white sugar
- Skin of one pineapple
1. Boil two liters of water
2. Mix the morocho corn flour in one half liter of water and mix with the two liters of boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes.
3. Boil two liters of water and add the herbs, orange tree leaves, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Cook for 10 minutes and strain out liquid.
4. Combine the water–corn mix with the water–herb mix. Strain and add the pineapple skin.
5. Ferment for one day.
6. Check the consistency of the drink and add more water as needed. Add the brown sugar and white sugar until sweetened to taste. Add ice and serve.