Kañiwa: A “new” ancient supergrain
Recently, I was introduced to kañiwa, and was surprised that another South American quinoa-like superfood is making its way to the market. Kañiwa is a relative of quinoa, and like the latter, grows in Peru and Bolivia. It’s an excellent source of protein and amino acids, is exceptionally high in iron, and is gluten-free. Dark reddish-brown in color and about half the size of a tiny quinoa seed, kañiwa cooks up quickly to resemble a smaller version of red quinoa.
One major difference between the two is that kañiwa doesn’t have saponins, the coating that gives quinoa a soapy, slightly bitter flavor if not rinsed properly. A good thing, as I can’t imagine a sieve fine enough for kañiwa’s tiny size. Quinoa brought to market has already been rinsed of much of its saponins, as otherwise it would be quite unpalatable (this procedure is done with a strong alkaline solution). But it’s always recommended that quinoa be rinsed well again at home to remove any remaining bitterness. Kañiwa is actually easier to process due to the absence of saponins.
It’s recommended to toast the grain on a dry skillet or saucepan first, then cover with water in twice its volume. Like quinoa, the water absorbs in 15 to 20 minutes. Truth be told, both times I used it so far I forgot to toast it, and it was just fine (it has a mild, nutty flavor similar to quinoa’s).
If I were a sweet breakfast person, I imagine that a little cooked kañiwa would be superb in pancakes, or served in a bowl with a little agave nectar and some chopped nuts and dried or fresh fruit. I enjoyed it for breakfast with a little Earth Balance and a sprinkling of Daiya cheese; though that might sound odd, it was quite good and kept me full for hours.
Like many a nutritious grain, kañiwa works well in warm pilafs and room-temperature salads. Come fall holiday meals, like its slightly larger cousin, a kañiwa pilaf would make a nourishing and attractive stuffing for squashes and peppers.
Nutritionally, kañiwa’s profile is remarkably similar to quinoa’s. It’s a good source of complete protein, and is a good source of a wide range of vitamins and minerals. One advantage it has over quinoa is that it’s an even better source of iron.
Bottom line: Kañiwa and quinoa can be used interchangeably, and are cooked in the same proportion to liquid (2 parts liquid to 1 part kañiwa; it cooks in 15 minutes, like quinoa, or just a bit quicker). To that end, please explore our article, How to Cook Quinoa — and Some Great Ways to Use It. You might also enjoy We Love Quinoa, a volume in our Best of VegKitchen affordable e-book series featuring the 30 most popular quinoa recipes on this site, along with many color photographs.
If you’d like to know more about the story behind kañiwa, here’s an informative article on Good Eater Collaborative. And if you’re curious to try it, it’s already being sold on Amazon.com,* or you can ask your natural foods retailer if they can order some for you.
For a recipe using kañiwa, see Kañiwa Confetti Salad.
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