The snack of the Andes and the Oregon Trail
A brief history of cancha/chulpi
Hello, Snackers. Today on Snack Stack:
Cancha/Chulpi (Roasted Corn)
Credit: ProjectManhattan on Wikipedia Commons
Roasted, toasted or fried large corn kernels, usually with salt, sometimes with other flavorings. Crunchy on the outside, softer in the middle.
Find it in
Peru (where it’s called cancha) and Ecuador (chulpi); same thing, just different names. CornNuts are a corporate variation most often found in American convenience stores and grocery stores.
Corn! You can pop it, you can nixtamalize it, you can use it to make ethanol, you can spin it into fabric, and you can, of course, eat it. Originally domesticated in the area that’s now Mexico, it eventually made its way both south and north, where indigenous peoples found that, when dried and roasted, it made for a tasty, portable snack.
Andean farmers munch on it and it’s a popular street food and bar food in Peru, often using the regional corn called choclo, which has particularly large kernels (choclo is also a common accompaniment to ceviche).
When European colonizers arrived in the Americas, they also turned out to enjoy the crunchy corn snacks, and parched corn was a popular food on the Oregon Trail, where the typical journey lasted four or five months, and toasted corn was an easy thing to transport and, again, it’s tasty, and Hot Cheetos weren’t yet available at convenience stores every few miles.
In 1936, an Oakland entrepreneur named Albert Halloway started making a version of the snack that he called Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn—dried, rehydrated, fried, and sprinkled with salt. He sold it to local bars, where it quickly caught on as a perfect accompaniment to beer. In 1949, Halloway rebranded his product as CornNuts. He also eventually switched from using North American corn to the larger choclo kernels from Peru, and later developed a new variety of corn that was a hybrid of the two.
Nabisco bought the brand in 1997 and soon got to work marketing CornNuts as “Corn Gone Wrong.” Here’s Adweek describing the 2001 campaign:
In ads for video games, junk foods and other necessities of life, a raucous bad-boy image is de rigueur (or perhaps duh rigueur). Even the kids must find this faux outlaw sensibility tedious after a while. How nice, then, to see an ad that lampoons this genre by taking it to ludicrous extremes. A satanic parody (“Corn Gone Wrong” indeed!) is just the thing to elevate the brand’s Hipness Quotient.
Get it here
Stores and stands around Peru and Ecuador, or online in various places, including Paisanas.com (113 grams for $3.25). Get CornNuts at most grocery stores and convenience stores across the USA, or online at Boxed.com (among others). A variety pack of 24 small bags, including Original, Ranch, Chile Picante, and BBQ, costs $10.49.
Pair it with
Inca Cola (here’s an interesting story on how they beat Coca-Cola!) or a Pilsen Callao.
Will you like it?
Peru Delights: “Cancha Salada: Peru’s All-Time Favorite Snack”
Chowhound: “What Are CornNuts and Where Did They Come From?”