Pichuberries, amaranth, oca: find out where to go to try some of these lesser-known South American staples.
From the ancient cathedrals in Cuzco to the historic ruins and strenuous hikes of Huayna and Machu Picchu, Peru has a multitude of easily recognizable landmarks for travelers from around the world.
The country has also been receiving equal recognition for its food and drinks. Quinoa, a traditional Andean ingredient, is now the yoga of the food world—it’s available on every corner and you feel guilty if you aren’t eating enough of it. It’s even been distilled into a vodka. Pisco and ceviche have also become common terms in the American dining lexicon.
But recently American chefs and bartenders have been digging a bit deeper into all that Peru has to offer, like pichuberries, which pack more vitamin C than an orange and are being used in cocktails. Other Peruvian products making their way onto American tables these days include puffed amaranth, a spice made from tree bark, and an ancient tuber you’ve probably never heard of. Here’s where to go to try them:
Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago
Pichuberries are an exotic Peruvian plant that resemble mini tomatillos in both appearance and taste—their flavor is slightly vegetal, with a bright, tart citrus note. “I discovered the pichuberry by accident when I was perusing a local specialty food store,” says bartender Mike Jones. “I bought them on a whim and they turned out to be delicious.” Inspired by their unusual taste, he created the Lost Treasure, a tart, bracing, yet creamy cocktail that incorporates Pisco, Breckenridge bitters, lemon, an egg white, and housemade pichuberry syrup.
492 in Charleston, South Carolina
“I’m always looking for interesting new ingredients to use, and I love the history behind amaranth and how far back it dates,” says chef Nate Whiting of Charleston’s 492. The name translates in Greek to “never fading,” and it turns out this little seed was once insanely popular. “It used to sustain a whole culture,” says Whiting, “and then people just kind of forgot about it. Now there’s this new interest in forgotten grains.”
The chef pays homage to amaranth in his foie gras torchon with puffed amaranth granola, burnt honey, and aloe vera agrodolce. “Puffed amaranth is a relatively simple way to enhance almost any dish with tiny crunchy kernels,” Whiting says. “I’ll openly admit that I’m a total nerd, but it still amazes me every time it puffs up. I think it’s so cool.”
Forbidden Root Brewing, Chicago
In Chicago, brewer Robert Finkel uses Balsam of Peru—a spice derived from tree bark that’s closely related to cinnamon and nutmeg—in his Forbidden Root Ale.
You might recognize the taste; Balsam of Peru was used in classic root beer recipes. “A little goes a long way,” says Finkel. “While it’s beautiful alone, it’s one of 20 botanicals we use. Level-setting all these flavors took the better part of two years, sitting around the table, Breaking Bad–style, to blend the perfect combination.”
You can try a pint inside the taproom at Forbidden Root Brewing Co. in Chicago. The ale is also available in NYC, including at the Blind Tiger in the West Village, Beer Culture in Hell’s Kitchen, and Alphabet City Beer Company in the East Village.
Three Degrees in Portland, Oregon
Executive chef Thomas Dunklin of Portland’s Three Degrees sources oca, his favorite Peruvian tuber, from right down the road, thanks to a local farmer who shares a fondness for it. Oca is usually grown high in the Andes and dates back to pre-Columbian times. The knobby root has a slightly sweet taste and can be used like an herb to infuse drinks, or can be added to raw or cooked dishes to add vibrancy and color (it comes in an array of hues ranging from purple to gold). If you find it at your local farmer’s market, roast or pan-fry it like carrots or sunchokes, and expect a similar, crunchy consistency.
Dunklin throws it into two dishes on his menu. He tops king salmon roe with both crispy fried oca and a special oca-leaf oil, and his spiced lamb is served with a warm oca and artichoke salad and finished with pickled watermelon rind.