The role that food played in the Inca Empire was far more important than as just a source of nourishment. In what way?
The Inca, or ruler, of the empire was responsible for sustaining his political and social links throughout his extensive territory. This included storing and providing food where and when it was needed.
The Inca Empire was tied together by a long road or trail, "El Camino de las Incas" or the Inca Road. It stretched from Northern Argentina, the whole length of Peru, and into Northern Ecuador.
From that central
road, branches went out to various sectors of the Empire.
Along that trail and in the off-shoots that led to major Inca citadels, some of the most common stone buildings remaining from that culture are the Inca food storage buildings.
Collection, preservation, and distribution of food tied together the many different populations forming the Empire.
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The Inca Empire included large expanses of ocean coast, mountains, and
jungles; cultivated lands could be anywhere from sea level to 15,000
Although much of the land was not suitable for cultivation, the vegetables, fruits, and meats available to the population were generally quite varied.
The potato was the main food of the Incas along with other tubers such as ulluco and oca.
Second of importance was probably maize (corn), which had been introduced from Mexico long before the time of the Incas.
Meat and Fish - Meat, fresh
or dried, included fish, llama, alpaca, guinea pig and other
domesticated and wild animals.
Because of the fast system of distribution, fish from the coast could be eaten far away in Cusco, the capital city, along with tropical fruits as well as the locally grown potatoes and maize.
The main benefits of maintaining storehouses stockpiled with food were:
These storehouses were kept stocked year round and were ready to serve
the movement of the Inca forces at any moment. The state storage system
maintained stored food sufficient to last 3 to 7 years.
At least 2,000 warehouses, called quolqa or qullqa (in Quechua, quollqa), were scattered throughout the Inca Empire. The food was also used to feed nearby communities in times of need.
The Incas had an advanced system of food preservation and storage. This in itself was one of the major reasons the Inca Empire was able to extend its influence along the route of the Camino de Las Incas and reach to the Pacific Ocean on the West and the Amazon jungles on the East.
Freeze-dried foods are not a modern invention. The Incas began to freeze-dry vegetables and meat as many as 1500 years ago. The high mountains provided the perfect way to freeze dry:
Freeze-dried potatoes, whole or ground, are called chuño. This food is widely available and eaten in Peru and other Andes countries to this day.
Along with their advanced method of food preservation and storage, the Incas had a well-developed distribution system.
Obtained from local communities under a system of taxation, the stored food not only enabled the Incas so to survive periods of drought and feed their standing army; it also served nearby communities in times of need.
Although the Incas are not around as a culture anymore, some of the
foods we commonly consume are a heritage of that mighty nation.
Starting with foods that originated with the Incas and going on to other Inca staples, here are some of their favorites:
Many of us learned in school that the potato originated in Peru.
Potatoes (papas) were one of the main crops of the Inca Empire.
Today, over 2,000 varieties of potatoes can be found on dinner plates in the towns of the Andes.
Lesser known than the origin of the potato is the fact that beef jerky (charki or charqui) began with the Incas.
The meat used was generally llama or alpaca meat and was freeze-dried and stored.
Charqui is still widely eaten today in Peru and Bolivia in various recipes, usually being reconstituted by cooking.
The Incas called this dried meat "charqui (charki)" which in English
pronunciation became "jerky."
The Incas used other kinds of meat for their "charqui" depending on
what was available. The "charqui" was stored along with the dried
potatoes and other vegetables.
Peruvian restaurants around the world serve various recipes using "charqui" and also use varied meats.
Beef was introduced to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadores around 1500 A.D. and was not known previously.
However, the descendants of the Incas, the Quechua people, were quick to begin using it for beef "charqui."
Popcorn? Yes, the Incas were the first to use popcorn. It was found
to be an ideal way to preserve corn (maize), which was one of their
Popcorn (palomitas, pipoca, canguil) as well as many other popped grains are consumed currently in Andean countries.
Food - Oca
Oca, also known as New Zealand Yams (pink oca), comes in many varieties. It is a native Peruvian tuber, and staple of the Inca diet. It is now eaten worldwide