People are always on the lookout for the latest and greatest foods to help enhance their health and prevent risk of disease. The term "superfood" has captivated consumers and increased their interest in purchasing products touted as such. Technically, the word "superfood" merely a buzzword as it currently has no standardized medical definition and there is no scientific way of classifying foods under this name. However, the word label has commonly been applied to foods that have significant health benefits because they contain high amounts of one or more beneficial nutrients (often phytonutrients such as antioxidants). Foods like blueberries, broccoli, and flaxseeds have been termed superfoods, and the latest food to join this category is kaniwa.
What Is Kaniwa?
Kaniwa is often described as a grain, but it's actually a seed that is cooked and consumed like a grain product. Originally from the Andes Mountains in Peru, kaniwa is fairly new to the United States It is expected to appeal to people who consume similar nutrient-dense grains and seeds like quinoa, which has become enormously popular in recent years. Kaniwa is related to the highly-popular quinoa but has a slight edge over its grain-like counterpart in that it does not contain any saponins, a component in some foods that gives them a soapy, bitter flavor and requires the food to be rinsed well before it's cooked and eaten. Kaniwa seeds are dark reddish-brown in color and are significantly smaller than its close relative quinoa.
Kaniwa's taste has been described as mild, nutty and slightly sweet--similar to the flavor of quinoa. Its small size makes it an excellent food to be served as porridge. Like many other healthy grains or grain-like foods, it can also be served as a nutritious side dish in the form of a warm pilaf or room-temperature salad. Kaniwa's quick cooking time makes it an excellent choice to add to salads, stir-fries, soups and stews, and its flavor pairs well with fish. It would also work well in a stuffed pepper dish. It can be grounded into flour, which can then be used to make delicious earthy breads, sweet pastries, and even hot chocolate. Kaniwa can be used in place of flour or breadcrumbs to coat fish and meats.
Cooking with Kaniwa
For the best flavor, toast kaniwa prior to cooking. One cup of dry kaniwa requires 2 cups of water to cook, with one cup dry yielding 2 cups cooked. Bring water to a boil, lower it to a simmer, and then allow it to cook uncovered for about 15-20 minutes.
Kaniwa is an excellent source of protein, boasting a remarkable 16% protein content. It's also packed with fiber, iron, calcium and zinc and is a great gluten-free choice for people with celiac disease. A complete nutritional profile of kaniwa is not yet available from the United States Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Database, but with its expected increase in popularity, more detailed nutrition information may be available soon.
To purchase kaniwa, check your area's health food store or in the bulk section at some Whole Foods locations. It can also be purchased online from a number of retailers, including Amazon.com
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.