For years, quinoa has been the ancient superfood of choice among everyone from endurance athletes to health-conscious home cooks. And what’s not to love? Quinoa is both nutrient-dense and workout-fueling—and clearly, it’s stood the test of time.
But now that you can order a quinoa bowl just about everywhere (The Cheesecake Factory included), there’s a buzzy, not-so-new power food that’s poised to attract the trendsetting foodie: pinole.
This mix of maize, cacao beans, and spices was a favorite energy-boosting meal among the Aztecs, but only recently became available in the United States though Native State Food’s Purely Pinole line of pre-mixed powders. “It’s sort of been this lost food that has only survived in rural parts of Central and Latin America where people are making it by hand,” says Angela Palmieri, Native State’s co-founder.
But pinole has the nutrient profile—as well as the ancient street cred—to quite literally give quinoa a run for its money, thanks to its cult-status among athletes looking for that elusive extra kick.
Here’s everything you need to know about pinole, the ancient superfood that’s on the verge of having a major revival.
But seriously: What is pinole?
Unlike quinoa, which features just one ingredient (the beloved pseudo-grain), this ancient superfood is a blend; heirloom purple corn maize (a predecessor to modern corn) is mixed with 100-percent raw cacao, a process that traditionally involves slow-roasting the two ingredients together for hours before painstakingly grinding them by hand with a stone. Add in a touch of unrefined organic sugar and cinnamon and presto, you’ve got pinole.
It’s a lot of work—which is why pre-mixed powders are popping up in grocery store aisles. Heat them up with cow’s milk or nut milk and you’ll end up with something akin to a hot acai bowl, only way more savory, spicy, and grainy. (Topping off your bowl with some fruit sweetens things up a bit—and adds serious Instagram catnip.)
There are modern touches, too: Purely Pinole, for example, offers different flavors (like blueberry or banana) and has tweaked the ancient recipe a bit by adding ingredients like pea protein. Because it comes in powder form, Palmieri says it can be used for baking too, taking the place of flour.
Why it’s buzz-worthy
Protein-wise, pinole really can’t be beat. Each serving of Purely Pinole, for example, has seven grams of protein. Adding milk (again, dairy or nut) ups the total protein count to a very impressive 20 grams or so per bowl, and maize is rich in many vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, while cacao is packed with antioxidants. Your a.m. oatmeal bowl just can’t compete with that.
“We consistently have people tell us, ‘I got to the end of my run where I usually stop and I realized I had all this energy.'”
Because pinole hasn’t exactly reached household name status, there simply haven’t been any academic studies measuring its effects—but Palmieri says she’s got plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting its status as a superfood. “We work with a lot of trainers and people who live really healthy lifestyles and they all reported a difference in their athletic performance after eating pinole for a couple weeks,” she says. “We consistently have people tell us, ‘I got to the end of my run where I usually stop and I realized I had all this energy.'”
The Tarahumara Indians from northwestern Mexico (and of Born to Run fame) were known for running hundreds of miles—barefoot—at a time, and Palmieri says they relied on two things to fuel them: chia seeds and pinole.
So why haven’t you heard of it yet? “It’s only found in rural communities,” Palmieri explains. Her husband, Native State Foods’ co-founder Claudio Roumain Ochoa, grew up in the US but has fond memories of eating pinole during family trips abroad. The couple left New York City and spent a year in Central America on a quest to learn more about pinole, before introducing it—via Purely Pinole—to a bigger audience last year.
Which means that you shouldn’t be surprised if, in the near future, you see an influx of pinole bowls supplanting the smoothie and acai creations populating your Instagram feed.
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