Peruvian cuisine is a chest filled with real treasures in the form of food. Some of it is animal-based, but most of the best Peruvian ingredients are plants and vegetables. One of them is the delicious Huacatay, a delicious, aromatic herb that serves as condiment for many of the main dishes in Peru. Keep reading to find out all you need to know about Huacatay.
First things first… What is Huacatay?
Huacatay is a strong, aromatic herb from the marigold family. It is grown in the Peruvian Andes, but it can grow all over South America, specifically in countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Chile or Paraguay. Its name is pronounced “wah-ka-tay” and it’s also known as Peruvian black mint, mint marigold, wild marigold or Mexican marigold; depending on the region you look for it.
The Huacatay plant is fairly small with tiny yellow and green flowers and spiky leaves. Its leaves are a glossy green color and both the leaves and the flowers produce a strong odor as it contains an essential oil. The taste of the Huacatay herb is somewhat mixture of sweet basil, tarragon, mint and lime.
Nutritional value or benefits of Huacatay
Back in pre-colonial times, Huacatay was already being used with medicinal purposes by the Inca civilization. Since Huacatay has beneficial properties such as antispasmodic, bactericidal, antiviral (because it contains thiophenes.), carminative, fungicidal and some more, it is the perfect choice for people who rely heavily on herbal medicine to treat ailments.
Just by drying out the flowers and the leaves you can make a steaming, healing tea to fight colds, asthma and other respiratory inflammations. An infusion of Huacatay is perfect for stomach aches, hookworms and Ascaris. Apart from medicinal use and of course preparing delicious dishes, Huacatay has been used lately more and more to make herbal beauty products.
By extracting the essential oils of the Huacatay plant, you can obtain great amounts of valeric acid, limonene and tagetone; which can be later used in diffusers and other natural treatments.
Different presentations of Huacatay
As it happens with many, many delicious culinary ingredients from South american countries, Huacatay is not very easy to find across North America. And unless you’re planning to grow your own plant, which would require you to find the seeds and wait for it to grow fully, we recommend you turn to our expert hands where you’ll find the most popular versions of Huacatay along with other Peruvian food like ají amarillo, rocoto and ají panca.
But how exactly can you find or identify Huacatay if you’ve only read about it’s natural form, which is a long plant? Well, as a herb Huacatay is considered a spice; one of the most popular spices in Peruvian Food by the way. And as most of the Peruvian spices, Huacatay is found in the form of a thick, strong smelling paste. You can find it by different brands here.
The most popular Peruvian recipes with Huacatay
As we mentioned before, Huacatay is mainly a spice used to season dishes. As a seasoning, this herb can be used in the form of dried leaves, or you can take the paste and make a rich and creamy sauce combined with other ingredients, depending on the recipe.
A delicious and classic Peruvian dish that absolutely has to have creamy sauce mixed with ají amarillo dripping on top is the Peruvian rotisserie chicken (you can check out the recipe here.).
Another delicious dish that involves creamy Huacatay sauce or paste is the Ocopa, a potato-based recipe that will make your mouth water. If you’re looking to use this herb in its plain leaf form, you can use them dry to season dishes such as soups or stews.As you can see, this herb is not only very popular in Peruvian cuisine. It’s actually essential for some of the most iconic dishes. Don’t think twice when it comes to try out Huacatay. If you enjoy aromatic herbs and are a sucker for strong flavors, follow one of the classic Peruvian recipes or why not? Experiment with your own meals. After all it’s not a secret, that the best meals in the world were created simply by experimenting with bold flavors and ingredients.