Long swaths of rolled, scented bark fill stands and carts in Cuzco. This is cinnamon, an aromatic spice that gives a touch of flavor to deserts, foods, and drinks with its magical powder.
In Peruvian cooking, cinnamon is mostly used in well known deserts such as, for example, rice pudding (arroz con leche) or Lima’s sigh (suspiro a la limeña). These are iconic desserts and are favorites of almost all Peruvians.
In Cuzco we also use cinnamon in traditional drinks such as a chicha made from quinoa that we call chicha blanca, or white chicha. It is also used in a strawberry chicha we call frutillada. A dusting of cinnamon is added at the end giving just a hint of spice and aroma on the beverage’s top.
When you go to the market, chicha blanca or white chicha is one of the refreshing beverages that is always there waiting for you. It is hard to resist. Cinnamon is its indispensable and faithful companion. When the caseras (vendors) serve you up a glass of chicha, the finish with a flourish of magic whose scent and taste marry well with the chicha and make the whole magical.
The strawberry chicha (frutillada) is also refreshing and healthy. People love to drink it. Even more, after working out or playing football or some other sport, it soothes and refreshes. This delicious drink is made from fresh strawberries and just as in chicha blanca a fine finish of cinnamon is indispensable. The vendors shake on just a bit to decorate the glass and serve it with its incomparable flavor joining chicha from corn, fresh strawberries, and cinnamon.
We cannot forget cinnamon tea. Just adding the bark and bringing water to a boil produces this delicious herb tea with a mild cinnamon flavor that yet is invigorating, especially when it is cold. We love it for breakfast or an afternoon snack (lonche), accompanied by some delicious chuta rolls. This is a typical food of Cuzco and it gives a pleasing taste to the palate that both gives you energy and soothes. This cinnamon tea is also added to cakes and pastries as an essence.
You can always find stretches of rolled cinnamon bark in our markets or, if you wish, you can buy already ground cinnamon. They offer bags for half a sol, about $0.20 US. Or you can buy the rolled bark for about S/ 50 a kilo in Cuzco’s markets, about $20 US.
In Peru, cinnamon, or canela as we say it, is an intriguing word. When we ant to say something is really good we say it is cinnamon, “es la canela”. And there is a song about the cinnamon flower by the famous Peruvian singer Chabuca Granda. This song made her famous. It is about the beautiful ladies of Lima who are simply called cinnamon flowers. Their beauty and scent are brought together in this image of a spicy flower.