Peru has a wide variety of nutritious ingredients, some of which – like avocado and chia seeds – are already familiar to UK consumers. However, other exciting produce from the Incan homeland has yet to reach mainstream diets. Here, we highlight five foods that could follow quinoa into the big leagues.
Known as canihua, kaniwa or ‘baby quinoa,’ these seeds are about half the size of regular quinoa and have a dark red or brownish colour. They share a close nutritional profile with quinoa, including a variety of useful nutrients like B vitamins, calcium and iron, as well as relatively high levels of flavonoids. Canihua also has a similar nutty flavour, but adds a slightly sweeter note and crunchy texture.
Gluten free, high in fibre and a source of protein, there’s plenty of opportunity to incorporate this seed into salads, soups, porridge and snacks, as it goes well in both sweet and savoury dishes.
The seed of the amaranth plant is similar to cereal grains like wheat or oats in terms of nutrition and usage. It is gluten free and rich in protein, fibre, antioxidants and micronutrients such as magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and iron.
Alternatively called kiwicha, it’s extremely versatile: add to smoothies to increase the fibre and protein content or add to soups and stews to thicken. Cooked amaranth has a porridge-like texture that makes it a great option for breakfast or desserts, and the seed can even be popped and used in breakfast cereals and snack bars.
Obtained from a shrub that grows in the swampy areas of the Amazon rainforests, each small fruit (1-3cm diameter) contains 2-3 large seeds. Camu-camu is allegedly the world’s most potent source of vitamin C, with around 56 times more than oranges. It is also low in calories – just 16 per 100g – and low in sugars, as well as fat free.
The fruit itself has a very tart flavour, which is why it generally comes in powdered form so it can be mixed with other ingredients to make it more palatable. This powder can be added to smoothies, ice cream, sauces, dressings and marinades for tenderising meat. Adding a small amount of vitamin C powder to bread mixes has been shown to strengthen the gluten in flour, which can give a better rise, so camu-camu powder could be useful in some baked recipes.
Consumed in the Amazon region for thousands of years, the sacha inchi seed looks more like a nut than anything else. Like flaxseed, it contains a large proportion of essential omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which makes it especially useful for vegan diets. The protein content of the sacha inchi seed is similar to soybean, and it contains all nine essential amino acids.
In particular, it has high levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin (considered to be a natural mood stabiliser). Then there are the beneficial amounts of minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc. Perhaps best of all – at least from a marketing perspective – the sacha inchi fruit containing the seeds is an Instagrammable star shape, making it one to watch out for on social media.
Despite being known in the UK as butter beans, these tasty beauties are virtually fat free, in addition to boasting high levels of protein and fibre. Like many beans, they provide a variety of vitamins and minerals as well as counting towards one of your five-a-day.
Lima beans can be used in both gluten-free and vegan products, going well in soups, salads and dips. They also work well in baking to help reduce fat and increase protein and fibre, and can even be roasted for a healthy snack.