Lately you may have noticed a new grain in your supermarket bulk section called kaniwa, also known as cañihua. In its toasted form it is called cañihuaco.  Some have confused this grain with quinoa, but they are not the same. Kaniwa comes from the region of Peru known as Puno, which is high up in the Andes Mountains.  Remember all those silly jokes you heard growing up about Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest lake?  Well, that’s the region kaniwa comes from.

 Raw Kaniwa SeedCredit: Mel E. McCormickOne myth on the origin of kaniwa:  A mischievous and melancholic fox looked into the river one day and saw the reflection of a huge party happening up in the heavens. Just then the Condor swooped down for a drink and agreed to fly the fox up to the party going on.  The fox had a grand old time eating and drinking and making merry.  Though everyone eventually went home, he still wasn’t satisfied and garnered an invitation from a star to come over for a meal.  The star was making kaniwa pudding, but curiously only put one grain into the pot.  “What?” thought the fox.  “That will never be enough for the both of us, let alone for just me!” So the fox slipped in ten more grains of kaniwa.  Soon the pot began boiling over and the pudding filled the whole house. The star was furious with the fox.  “Foolish fox! Why did you add more kaniwa? Now I’ll make you eat it ALL yourself!”  The fox ate it all feeling shame and disgrace.  The star grudgingly agreed to lower the bulging fox back down to earth on a rope, but when the fox was nearly home again he insulted a passing bird.  In response the bird cut the rope down with her beak.  Falling to the earth, the fox exploded and the kaniwa inside of him spread far and wide (loosely paraphrased and translated from Cuentos, Mitos y Leyendas edited by Prof. Lina G. León Grillo[1]).

So what should you do with kaniwa? And do its health benefits even compete with quinoa?  The answer to the latter question is yes. It is every bit as beneficial as quinoa.  It has 16% protein and many beneficial nutrients, amino acids, and minerals. It is also more environmentally friendly than quinoa.  Quinoa requires an enormous amount of water to remove the bitter saponins from its grains, whereas kaniwa grains have no saponin shield and so need much less water for production.  The way you prepare kaniwa, however, is very different from how you prepare quinoa.  If quinoa salads are your go-to for a healthy lunch or dinner side dish, then think of kaniwa as your new best friend at breakfast.  Try it as a cool and energizing breakfast cereal. But don’t get up tomorrow and throw the raw grains in with some milk and start chomping down. You will get a mouthful of a very earthy taste which does not appeal to most people. 

Here’s what to do first:

  1. Put the kaniwa in a dry frying pan heated on medium-low to medium heat.
  2. Stir or swirl the pan every few seconds until you hear faint popping and smell a pleasant odor.  Remove the kaniwa from the heat before it starts to burn.
  3. Grind the toasted kaniwa in a clean coffee grinder or food processor. 

You now have cañihuaco. Seem like a lot of work?  Well, when you taste this toasted ground kaniwa with the milk of your choice, you will see that the delicious taste makes every step of prep worth it. When you add the cañihuaco to milk (cold or warm), wait 5 minutes to let it thicken a little. This will make the consistency even better. 

Not interested in using kaniwa as a breakfast cereal?  Well, sprinkle the cañihuaco in your breakfast shake or smoothie or over ice cream.  Add it to your favorite bread recipe.  Put some in your hot cocoa. The delicious, nutty taste complements a variety of foods, so be creative.

Into sprouting?  Go ahead and sprout the raw grains.  The sprouts are extremely nutritious with 30% protein content and many nutrients.  But be aware that the sprouts do contain some saponins and oxalic acid, so a little goes a long way. 

Now that you know how beneficial kaniwa is and how to prepare it in a way that is both nutritious and delicious, go ahead and try it.  Think of it as your new best breakfast friend.