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3 Peruvian Superfoods to Try Now

Reap the benefits of these protein-packed seeds.

While Peruvians have been eating quinoa for centuries, it took a while for the nutrient-packed seed to make its way to the U.S. But it turns out, quinoa is just one of the many powerhouse seeds native to Peru—and three others, kañiwa, tarwi, and sacha inchi, are finding their way onto supermarket shelves. As a result of having to survive more inclement climates, like the high Andes or the Amazon river beds, these foods have far vaster phytonutrients that protect them against the elements and provide us with greater health benefits than foods like wheat and barley, says Mary Gocke, R.D., a nutritionist at the Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, New York.

Here, the health benefits of each and how to add them to your meals.

Kañiwa

"This gluten-free seed is similar to quinoa, except with less bitterness," says Andrea Hausel, R.D., based in the San Franciso Bay area. It’s high in filling fiber, contains calcium and zinc, and its fat content is mostly the heart-healthy unsaturated variety. "A half-cup serving boasts seven grams of plant-based protein, compared with four grams per serving for quinoa," she adds.

"I like to use it in its powder form as a flour for sweet and savory breads or to make pastries healthier," says Victor Alvarez, executive chef of Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort, in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Follow his lead by grinding seeds into flour in a food processor or coffee grinder, then swapping them in for a quarter of the flour in a baking recipe. Or simply prepare the grain like quinoa: Mix one part kañiwa with two parts water and simmer over low heat until softened, about 20 minutes. (Bonus: Unlike quinoa, this grain doesn't need a pre-cooking rinse.)

Tarwi

This pearly-white legume is popular because of its high protein content. "A half-cup serving has about 10 grams," says Hausel. It has a bitter flavor and requires several soakings prior to cooking with it, notes Alvarez. "I like to make a tarwi purée with a touch of sesame oil to enhance its flavor and serve it with chicken," he adds.

You might find it under the name lupini beans or chochos at a Hispanic market, or you can buy it online. One warning: "There is a potential for people with a peanut allergy to also have an allergic reaction to tarwi, since they’re both members of the same legume family," Hausel says. 

Sacha inchi

Packed with protein and essential fatty acids, this seed is said to taste like a nut when roasted, giving rise to its nickname of Inca nut or Inca peanut. "They have approximately the same amount of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids per one-ounce serving (five grams) as chia seeds," notes Hausel. "But they provide nine grams of protein per serving as compared to five." The Peruvian wunderkinds also contain vitamin E, vitamin A, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

"I like to use sacha inchi seeds like beans, roasted in their own oil with a touch of local salt, which amplifies their flavor," Alvarez says. Try them mixed into tambochi salad, a Peruvian classic packed with purple cabbage, broccoli, carrots, sesame seeds, and a simple dressing made from olive oil, dijon mustard, and organic honey.