The Sweet Truth Behind Peru's Dessert Culture

Peru’s Rich Holidays & Traditions

Chocolate Cake

When we hear the word “tradition”, we tend to think of gatherings of friends and family with some special type of food for the occasion. In Peru, a key part of embracing traditions like holidays and birthdays involve the food itself as well as what comes after the meal: Dessert! These special moments with loved ones wouldn’t be a celebration without some sweet treats!

Nonetheless, the desserts aren’t an afterthought in Peru, rather a vital part of the country’s many holidays and traditions. These confectioneries include chocolate, cake, candy and other delicious creations. If you’re reading this piece in the northern hemisphere, you probably associate at least some of these sweets with winter weather, but do you think that you eat them during the summer?

Regardless of the warm weather in Peru in December and January, due to its location in the southern hemisphere, the Peruvian holidays and traditions wouldn’t be the same without their emphasis on these delicious desserts, especially around Christmas time.  These post-meal staples show their love and passion for chocolate which has a unique history and continues to play a major role in Peruvian culture.

Chocolate in Peru

Cacao Beans

When you think of chocolate, you might think of the European countries, such as Belgium and Switzerland. However, have you thought about where the Europeans would get the cacao beans that make chocolate? Have you wondered how chocolate eventually become one of the most popular treats in the world?

When Christopher Columbus returned from South America to Europe in the early 16th century, he brought bitter cacao beans. These beans wouldn’t become popular until after the Europeans added sugar to make the sweeter flavor of the chocolate that we have today, according to NPR.

As chocolate has become popular worldwide, it has become an important piece of Peru’s culture. Most recently, in the early 2010’s, a discovery of over three hundred types of cacao beans have been discovered in Peru.   

Not to mention, a few years ago, a new strand of white cacao bean was discovered in Peru that’s extremely rare and expensive. This bean grew at a high altitude of over 4,000 feet so these special beans are less acidic, and therefore less bitter, and make some of the world’s purest chocolate because the beans don’t require additional flavoring to make them sweeter, such as vanilla, according to the NY Times.

Hot Chocolate in the South American Summer

Yes, you’ve read the heading correctly! If you’re in the northern hemisphere, you’re probably experiencing some form of colder, winter weather and enjoying some hot beverages! However, in Peru, they still like to enjoy their summertime despite temperatures over 80º F (26.6ºC) because they love chocolate!

Hot Chocolate

Peruvians love their chocolate in all forms and still drink hot chocolate around Christmas time and New Years. Although they enjoy hot chocolate during the holiday season, they enjoy birthdays any time of year and the cake that comes with it!  

Peruvians Have Their Cake & Eat It Too!

Cake has the center piece behind big Peruvian celebrations and none bigger than the birthdays parties. When I taught at a primary school in Lima, I saw how Peru takes birthdays so serious that the school made restrictions for anything beyond the birthday cake.

Birthday Party

At the beginning of my semester of teaching in Lima, in addition to the birthday cake, the parents of the students brought in a lot of food, treats, and birthday accessories (hats, noise makers, etc) on their child’s special day. After a few chaotic birthdays with too many sweets and toys, we collectively decided that birthday accessories became distractions that were no longer allowed. We had a lot of parental support since the parents too felt the pressure of the birthday madness. Nevertheless, the cake kept its special place at the table.

In the teacher meeting when the decision was communicated, as the only American in the teacher group, I jokingly asked if the school was no longer going to allow cakes either. After a short pause, everyone laughed uneasily at the thought of no birthday cake.

At EdOdyssey, we don’t want our students to miss out any cake! In our past programs, we’ve taken our students to the chocolate museum in the center of Lima and they’ve learned about the history of chocolate and even tasted some of the best of Peru’s chocolate.

Are you a chocolate and cake fanatic? Do you not have much of a sweet tooth? In either case, Peru has plenty of bakeries across the country so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try these one-of-a-kind treats. We don’t want you to miss out on some of the most delicious types of desserts that the world has to offer!

Check us out on social media and see what special foods and desserts that you can find in Peru, and elsewhere!


Sources:

Fabricant, Florence. “Rare Cacao Beans Discovered in Peru”. January 11, 2011. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/dining/12chocolate.html

Godoy, Maria. “In Peru, A Hunt for Chocolate Like You’ve Never Tasted It”. October 11, 2011. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2011/10/10/141153396/in-peru-a-hunt-for-chocolate-like-youve-never-tasted-it

Special Contributor: Kristen Richard