In the Andean highlands between the Peruvian department of Puno and northern Bolivia, especially in the desert area, many materials are extracted from the soil, including clay.
The term chaco, or p’asa, identifies a type of edible clay, used both in the kitchen and as a medicine by the local populations. Chaco was already used by pre-Colombian civilizations, who made special drinks to help digestion and alleviate intestinal pains.
The use of chaco spread thanks to the domestication of Andean native potatoes, which have a very bitter taste. Clay is mixed with salt, so as to obtain a paste which gives a good taste to tubers and reduces the irritation of the digestive systems caused by the high content of glycoalkaloids. In addition, the consumption of chuco ensures the right intake of iron and calcium in the daily diet.
The best time to extract clay is May to December. 30 cm to 5 m holes are dug, the clay is extracted by hand and then left in the sun to dry. Once dry, the clay is ground to obtain a light, gray colored powder.
This product is almost entirely used by the Andean communities, so it is very little known outside this area.
Chaco powder can be mixed with water to obtain an energizing drink drank by the farmers and animal breeders of the highlands. It is also used to prepare a sauce made with chuco, salt and water, used to season the tubers of the Andes and mitigate their bitter and unpleasant taste.
Even today, the communities in Perù and Bolivia (districts of Ácora, Asillo, Azángaro, Tiquillaca, La paz, and Oruro) are still consuming it.
use this product also for medicinal purposes, especially to treat stomach pains. The native people of this area often suffer from digestive disorders (ulcers, gastritis and digestive bleeding) and one of the traditional methods to alleviate the pains is a drink made with this clay.