The origins of the traditional mazamorra morada

August 4th, 2010

For many Peruvians, the taste of this thick purple goo is a treasured memory from childhood. Made from Peru’s unique purple corn it is a dessert dish with an interesting history.

So popular is this dessert that you can find it sold from street carts or on the menus of Peru’s finest restaurants.  Lima, the once colonial city of the Spanish, is particularly fond of it. This is because like many of modern Peru’s most popular dishes, it couldn’t have been created without the mix of old-world and new-world ingredients and ideas. But of course, the story couldn’t have even got started without pre-Columbian help… the Spanish chroniclers told tales of dish called ishkupcha, made from yellow corn and quicklime.

Cinnamon, cloves, lemon, apple, membrillo, perito, peach, apricots, plums and sugar all arrived in the New World with the Spanish and soon after was born Mazamorra Morada. In Peru at that point the local ingredients available were purple corn, pineapple and sweet potato flour.

According to historian Juan Jose Vega, “mazamorra” is a word that comes from the words “masa mora” which in English mean “berry mass/mush”, but could just as easily mean “Moorish mush”. This was a type of food of Arab origen, brought to Spain during its years of domination by the Moors. Many of the conquistadors who came to Peru after the conquest came bringing their Moorish concubines, who happened to also be very good in the kitchen.

In the Arab world, especially centred around Maghred, a similar dish called “matmora” is prepared with molasses, milk, spices and flour. It is possible that in Peru the wheat flour was swapped for corn flour. The term “mazamorra” also described a mushy mix of bread and biscuit crumbs fed to old sailors and slaves.

Other sources indicate an origin in a pre-Columbian dish – a porridge made in the highlands from quinoa. This idea may have been copied, adding sugar and replacing quinua for flour.

Whatever its origin, this messy purple mush is delicious and can’t be missed.

Ask for mazamorra morada por favor!

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