Touted as the one of the latest superfoods to hit the North American market, kañiwa been around for millennia. It’s finally catching on with health-conscious cooks nationwide. If you’ve been curious about expanding your pantry, this is a prime pick to try next. This guide explores how to cook and use kañiwa, with lots of tips and ideas, plus links to plant-based recipes.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking a bowl of uncooked kañiwa for mustard seeds or an even tinier form of red quinoa. These diminutive kernels are all related beyond that basic resemblance. Though it behaves much like a whole grain and is often enjoyed in similar ways, it’s a little seed with big benefits.
What is Kañiwa and Where Did It Come From?
Grown alongside quinoa in Bolivia and Peru, kañiwa thrives at high elevation in the South American Andes Mountains. There are more than two hundred varieties known through early records, but only twenty are still being cultivated, with most farmers focusing on just one.
That might sound like very selective breeding to find the very best qualities, but kañiwa still isn’t entirely domesticated. It’s grown much more like a weed than a conventional crop, reseeding itself annually after each harvest. This self-sufficiency makes it incredibly sustainable and especially vital in a region known for more extreme growing conditions.
The seeds vary slightly in color from reddish-brown to black and are about half the size of raw quinoa. The flavor is mild and subtly nutty, which makes it easy to pair with pretty much any meal. Its neutral baseline allows it to take on the flavors of anything else very easily, whether you’re craving something sweet or savory.
Traditionally, the seed has been toasted and ground to make a coarse flour, which is then used to make a wide range of cakes, breads, and puddings. Today, it’s prized in its whole format and is only just starting to catch on overseas.
Kañiwa and quinoa have many similarities and some differences. Here’s a brief description of how they’re alike and how they vary.
How to Buy and Store Kañiwa
Despite its growing popularity, kañiwa can still be hard to finnd in local grocery stores. Some specialty natural foods shops might carry it, but your best bet is to order online in increments of a pound or two.
A little bit goes a long way since it doubles in volume once cooked. Expect to pay approximately 8 to 10 dollars per pound, which should yield about 10 to 16 servings.
Kañiwa should be stored in a dry, cool, and dark place. Transfer open bags into airtight glass jars or containers to seal in the freshness for up to one year. It might still be edible well into the future but is liable to take on rancid or dusty flavors over time.
Like other whole grains, it’s best to store in in the refrigerator if your kitchen or pantry get warm in the summer months. If you think you won’t be using it for some months, you can even freeze the uncooked grain.
How to Cook Kañiwa
What makes kañiwa unique is that it has no saponins, substances contained in the bitter outer coating that can make similar pseudo-cereals harder to digest and taste unpleasantly soapy. That means you don’t need to rinse the raw grain before cooking — a good thing, because it would slip right through most strainers!
To cook, use the common ratio of 2 to 1 — liquid to raw grain — for example, 2 cups liquid to 1 cup grain. Plain water, vegetable stock, or plant-based milk (or a combination of any of these) all work for different flavorful results.
Bring the liquid to a boil in a small saucepan and add the raw kañiwa. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until softened. It retains a satisfying crunch once fully cooked, rather than becoming light and fluffy like quinoa. It’s very forgiving even for kitchen novices and is difficult to overcook. Still, don’t continue to cook once the liquid has been absorbed, so as not to scorch either the grain or your saucepan.
Kañiwa (center) is one of several gluten-free grains that include
brown rice, amaranth, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, and teff
Kañiwa Nutrition Notes
Notably more nutritious than the average whole grain, kañiwa has been a critical staple in places where food is scarce. Containing all 9 essential amino acids and 7 grams of protein per half-cup serving, it’s on par with quinoa as a complete protein powerhouse. Let’s not forget about the 5 grams of fiber it contains, which is crucial for good digestion.
It’s also rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Calcium, zinc, and iron are most notably found in abundance, which many modern western diets lack. Adding one meal with kañiwa into your weekly rotation will easily incorporate a diverse array of nutrients for a better diet.
A naturally gluten-free containing no common allergens, it’s a smart choice for anyone on a restricted eating regimen or someone who simply wants to explore a greater world of flavors. See its complete nutrition profile here.
Kañiwa Confetti Salad (photo by Hannah Kaminsky
originally published on VegKitchen.com
Simple Serving Suggestions
Ground Meat Substitute: This humble seed can cook up into a convincingly meaty replacement for ground beef! The possibilities encompass all cuisines: Seasoned with Mexican spices, it transforms into a brilliant filling for tacos or burritos. Add Italian seasoning for a meatloaf, meatball, or Bolognese sauce starter. Simmer with tomatoes, chili powder, and beans, and you’ll have a hearty pot of firehouse chili in no time.
Pilaf: Prepared much like rice or quinoa, kañiwa is an easy side dish to pair with any entrée. Cook it in vegetable broth with some garlic and onions (or scallions) for a comforting taste that’s delicious enough to eat on its own.
Breakfast Cereal: Take a break from the usual oatmeal and try a bowl of lightly sweetened kañiwa for a change of pace. Add a touch of maple syrup and top with your favorite fresh fruits for a warm and cozy way to start your day.
Soup: Thicken stews with just a tablespoon or two of kañiwa to instantly amp up the texture and nutrition. It’s impossible to overcook, so you can add it in the early stages of a slow-cooked stew without changing the procedure at all.
Pancakes: The cooked grain can add fantastic texture to a simple pancake batter, or blended to make a smooth batter with an extra nutty bite.
Salad: Cooked and cooled kañiwa is an excellent addition to any leafy salad. During winter months when such tender greens are scarce, you can use it as the base of the salad itself, tossed with hearty roasted root vegetables and served either warm or cold. Another salad idea: use it to replace quinoa in tabbouli salads.
Baked goods: Add a half cup or so of the cooked grain to any muffin or quick bread batter for extra texture and protein.
Sprouting: Your can grow your own (teeny tiny) sprouts using kañiwa (and other grains.
Vegan Recipes Featuring Kañiwa
- Seeds and Greens Kañiwa Salad
- Blueberry-Vanilla Kañiwa Cereal
- Kaniwa Oats Veggie Patties
- Peanut Butter Kañiwa Granola
- Kañiwa Coffee Pumpernickel Bread
- Chickpea, Tomato, and Kañiwa Soup
- Warming Lentil & Kañiwa Chili
More ancient grain guides
And see more of this site’s Good Food Guides.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.