Food Culture, Traditional Food

A Peruvian Delight that Keeps Cold at Bay, Emoliente

Try a Delicious Emoliente (Photo: Giancarlo Gallardo)

A revitalizing elixir with an infinity of intense flavors and aromas that join our body when we drink it, emoliente (a warm or hot drink whose name is a cognate of the English emolient) was born as a medicinal drink. It was known for its diuretic properties, initially, a well as other gifts.

Today, it is a very popular drink when the weather turns cold. Emoliente warms, at the same time it is also known for refreshing your mouth and throat. Although it is loved in today’s Peru, it is also an ancient drink. It goes beyond the boundaries of Peru at the same time it breaks with many social expectations.

This great drink, known as the nectar of the gods, is made from barley and wild herbs known for their health value. It accompanies us throughout the winter in Lima, and in the highlands it is found every evening when the chill falls. It helps us forget about the cold.

An Emoliente Stand in Lima (Photo: Giancarlo Gallardo)
An Emoliente Stand in Lima (Photo: Giancarlo Gallardo)

Even though it has lots of good properties, emoliente is a humble drink. It can be found on many street corners of Lima and it is inexpensive adding to its attraction for whoever wishes to drink it.  It is so common and so desired that we have to ask how it came to have this presence in the City of Kings.

Long before Europe came to Peru, a version of emoliente was known.  an ancient Greece people would drink barley water–as they also did elsewhere in Europe, and they had a ceremonial drink that combined this barley water with mint. Unsurprisingly, given the powerful Greek presence in ancient Spain this drink became popular in Iberia. There they added cinnamon and lemon juice to it.

When the Spanish came to Peru, they brought this drink and its medicinal fame with them. It spread quickly as Lima became a Spanish city. It was widely used in the colonial period to such an extent that it formed the basis of an industry. In Lima, there were small establishments dedicated exclusively to the sale of emoliente. It was also widely and independently sold by the tisaneras, street vendors of medicinal waters in Viceregal Lima.

People said that the best of the medicinal waters was the emoliente. They even said that it softened tumors, calmed stomach problems, and dealt with the effects of climate change. Since the emoliente was the most popular of the teas they offered, the tisaneras began adding more properties to the brew by using more herbs and seeds. For example, they put in flaxseed, boldo (Peumus boldus), alfalfa, horsetail, and fresh squeezed lime juice. In this way they completely modified its flavor profile and obtained the result of an intensely flavored drink with rich nutritional and medicinal properties.

Emoliente (Photo: Giancarlo Gallardo)
Emoliente (Photo: Giancarlo Gallardo)

Ever since then, Lima’s streets fill with vendors of emolientes (they are called emolienteras). As a result, it is not at all hard to find a place to have an emoliente.

This drink’s reputation has grown. Its presence is expected in all the gastronomic fairs of Lima, especially in the great event called Mistura. People line up for it. At the same time they enjoy a healthful and tasty beverage, they also can receive information about the history of emoliente. The emolienteros give various lectures where they explain the history and technique of the brew for all who wish to come up and learn.

While the drink is extremely well known in Lima, it also has a presence in the rest of Peru as well, where small variations are made. In Cuzco they often add an infusion made from the seeds of a type of cactus that has been used for thousands of years. It is called ayrampo.

The Incas used this seed as a medicine because it was known to lower fevers. They also used it as a dye in their textiles because of its beautiful carmine color. Its flavor is also quite good. As a result, it is used in ice creams, deserts, and soft drinks.

Ayrampo adds all of these qualities to the emoliente, improving its flavor and quality. Unfortunately you can only enjoy this in Cuzco, since the seed is very difficult to come by in Lima.

As of today, this drink has broken all the social barriers imposed by Lima’s history and breaking with cultural prejudices. It is so delicious that no one can resist trying it.

La Emolientería in Miraflores, Lima (Photo: Giancarlo Gallardo)
La Emolientería in Miraflores, Lima (Photo: Giancarlo Gallardo)

Lima’s young people, who grow up with the hope of creating new products in order to compete in an entrepreneurial market, have created a bar where the classic emoliente is mixed with Peru’s well known liquor, pisco to form new drinks. Since piscos are often flavored with aromatic wild herbs, this gives the bar tenders a range of flavors from which to create new mixed drinks.

As a result this bar, called La emolientería (Av. Oscar Benavides 598) has become known for its uniqueness. Not only do its proprietors wish to build a good business, they also hope to raise people’s awareness of Peru’s traditions as well as making them current in today’s society so they will never be extinguished.

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