Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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coca a stimulant traditionally used in the Peruvian Andes and surrounding regions. It is the leaf of a small shrub, Exythroxylum coca, which grows at fairly high altitudes and of a less important species, E. novogranatense, grown lower down. Its use was originally a royal privilege among the Inca, but it is now widespread.

Coca leaves are chewed. They contain small amounts of the alkaloid cocaine. The effect is to increase endurance and suppress hunger, valuable among poor mountain folk who work hard and long on little sustenance. However, prolonged use causes addiction and lack of interest in food.