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Meet kaniwa, the ancient grain you’ve never heard of



No, we didn’t spell quinoa wrong. Kaniwa is actually the trendy food’s up-and-coming (more phonetic) cousin. And you’ll most likely be seeing the ancient grain on grocery shelves and restaurant menus soon.

Like quinoa, it grows in Peru and Bolivia, but it’s much tinier and is reddish-brown in color.

Natural and organic food company Purely Elizabeth just debuted a new line of ancient grain hot cereals (i.e. seriously upgraded oatmeal), and its health coach-founder Elizabeth Stein included kaniwa in her blend of grains.

“Part of the goal is really using innovative ingredients and trying to find ingredients before other manufacturers,” she says. “We started using chia seeds and coconut sugar four years ago, really before they became mainstream.”

Kaniwa plays a starring role in Purely Elizabeth's new hot cereals
Kaniwa plays a starring role in Purely Elizabeth’s new hot cereal—and, we suspect, in more food items to come.

Stein says when she first tried to use kaniwa it was nearly impossible to source. But now there’s a greater supply available and you can even find it in its raw form at some Whole Foods stores.

We asked her to break down the details on kaniwa and explain why it may be the next quinoa:

1. Protein and iron. Kaniwa’s nutritional profile is super similar to quinoa’s; it’s a great vegetarian source of (complete) protein, about 7 grams in a 160-calorie serving. But it’s got significantly more iron than quinoa—about 60 percent of your RDA compared to quinoa’s 15.

2. No need to rinse it. Who doesn’t like a time-saver?! Unlike quinoa, kaniwa does not contain saponins, the icky (possibly irritating) coating that gives it a soapy flavor if you don’t rinse it thoroughly.

3. Taste and uses. “It has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor,” Stein says, “and it’s definitely a heartier texture.” But you won’t need to learn new kitchen skills—you cook it just like quinoa and it can be used in all of the same ways. “I haven’t seen it as a flour yet, but traditionally it’s also ground up to make bread.” It’s probably only a matter of time. —Lisa Elaine Held

Have you tried kaniwa? Would you? Dish in the Comments, below!