I’ve been working on some pineapple recipes lately (recipes coming soon), but one of my favorite parts of cooking with pineapple or just eating a pineapple is using the pineapple skins and the core – which most people usually throw away – and boiling them with water, panela and spices to make pineapple chicha or a spiced pineapple drink.Traditional chicha is a fermented drink that is typically made from corn, sometimes also from yuca or cassava root, rice, oats, among others, but there are other lighter and easier to make versions of chicha.
My mom would make this drink for us whenever we had a pineapple, we loved it and would drink it pretty quickly, which meant it never really got to the true fermentation point, and while most traditional chichas are fermented – you can easily distinguish that spiciness that the fermentation adds to the drink – there are a lot of drinks in Ecuador that we call chicha but are much lighter versions that are freshly made and not fermented at all or just barely fermented. The true traditional chicha is made by chewing the corn and then spitting it back into a clay pot, spices and panela are also added, as a kid (ok and as an adult too) I thought that was just gross, most chichas you drink in Ecuador are not made this way anymore, the modern method is to grind the dried corn kernels with a rock (a somewhat primitive mortar and pestle), though if you really want to you can probably find a place to experience the “true” chicha.
This pineapple drink is sweetened with a hard brown cane sugar called panela, also known as piloncillo or panocha; it comes in a brick or cone shape and can be found in most Latin grocery stores or even in certain mainstream grocery stores. Panela is made directly from sugar cane juice, most of the panela you find in the US imported from Colombia and is probably produced in a more industrial setting; however in the town where I grew up in Ecuador the process is it a little bit more old-fashioned, the panela is prepared in trapiches, which are a very rustic processing area. There were a few trapiches close to our farm, where we had a small field of sugar cane and when ready to harvest, the canes were cut with machetes (the bases are left and grow back), then the sugar cane was loaded unto donkeys – which were wearing these special wood devices to carry the sugar cane-, next the sugar cane was taken to the nearest trapiche, where it first goes through a press that squeezes the juice out. The juice, which is called guarapo and is delicious mixed with bitter orange juice, is then cooked in these large rectangular metal devices (that have fires going underneath) and stirred with these huge wooden spoons (that almost look like kayaking paddles), it goes through several different of these cooking stages until at the end you have a very thick syrup, which is then poured into small brick shape wood molds, once the panela dries it hardens and the molds are removed.It is a very interesting process and just the trapiche part takes about an entire day, and of course as a kid it was great fun to drink some guarapo and taste the cane juice syrup.In Ecuador we use panela as most people would use sugar: to sweeten coffee, tea, juice, to bake and to make marmalades or fruit preserves; the panelas are kept in their hard brick form until ready to use and then they are melted down with water to make a syrup called miel de panela (panela honey) which is used to sweeten things, or it is also grated when used in certain dishes or for baking.
My recipe for chicha de piña does not cause the drink to ferment, though you can keep it for several days in the fridge, with the skins and spices in the drink, and it just gets better and better. If you do want it to ferment a little you can prepare the chicha by only boiling half of the pineapple skins with the panela and the spices, then mix this with the remaining raw pineapple skins and core, let it sit covered at room temperature (assuming room temperature is about 60 F) for day, and then refrigerate until it starts to ferment (obviously if it starts to rot or mold you shouldn’t drink it).Most of the time this pineapple chicha is served chilled – very refreshing on a warm day – but I also love to drink it hot, especially on a cold day, it’s almost like a variation of spiced apple cider. In fact, as far as spices go you can use a similar mix to what you would use to make spiced cider or mulled wine (a good way to use those spices up if you still have any leftover from winter), you’re entire house will smell so good when you are making this drink! You can strain it if you are drinking it immediately or leave some of the skins and spices in the drink.
The skins and core of 1 pineapple, organic if possible and well washed
½ to ¾ lb of panela or brown sugar, whole or in chunks – more or less to taste
Assorted spices: cinnamon sticks, all spice peppers, cloves, anise, etc
10-12 cups of water
- Combine all of the ingredients in large saucepan or pot
- Bring to a boil and simmer partially covered for at about an hour, stirring occasionally.
- Let cool down, unless you are drinking it warm or hot, you can drink it immediately or let it rest refrigerated to allow the spices and pineapple flavor to concentrate.