Thursday, May 26, 2011

Welcome, Kaniwa, Courtesy of Whole Foods

I have to give Whole Foods credit. Sure, some products are ridiculously priced and the subject of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been kept in the closet, but the company is on the cutting edge when it comes to carrying hard-to-find foods.

I was blown away the other day when, at my local Whole Foods in Manhattan, I saw a huge new contraption containing about two dozen grains and beans in bulk. These were not your usual bulk items of walnuts, dried apricots and split peas, but specialty items like kaniwa, black barley, freekeh and several varieties of heirloom beans.

I bought some freekeh (roasted green spelt berries), which I've purchased before in Middle Eastern specialty shops, but the true novelty was kaniwa (pronounced kan-yi-wa), which I had never seen or heard of before.

This from "Lost Crops of the Incas," a book by the National Research Council:
"Kaniwa (Chenopodium pallidicaule) is a remarkably nutritious grain [huge protein content] of the high Andes that . . . reigns in the extreme highland environment where wheat, rye, and corn grow unreliably or not at all because of the often intense cold. Even barley and quinoa cannot yield dependably at the altitudes where kaniwa grows.

"Although kaniwa produces a cereal-like seed, it is not a true cereal but a broad-leaved plant in the same botanical genus as quinoa. At the time of the [Spanish] Conquest, kaniwa grain was an important food in the high Andes. It is still widely grown, but only in the Peruvian and Bolivian altiplano—a lofty, semiarid plateau hemmed in by high ranges of the central Andes. Most kaniwa is consumed by the family that grows it, but some can be bought in Andean markets, especially near Puno."
And at a Whole Foods in Manhattan!

(More about kaniwa next week.)


Anonymous said...

While I like the variety in these bins also, one does have to be careful. One batch of dried lentils I bought in bulk at WF was full of debris. Of course I didn't notice this until I was home and ready to cook them. It looked like I had gotten whatever was swept up off the floor along with the lentils. I suspect this did not happen at Whole Foods itself, but at the original source of the lentils, or at an intermediary location. Makes me envision open jute bags of product.

Which, by the way reminds me of what a friend who worked quality assurance for a major US pharma company told me about his travels around the globe to inspect components for their products -- and encountering open jute bags of ingredients in yard barns or even less protected than that (I'm being kind in calling them yard barns).
We have no idea what we ingest nor where it comes from. Right now I have been unable to get a regular med I take for 3 months now. "Problem at the manufacturer and none of this med is available anywhere right now" is what the pharmacist told me. For 3 months now? No, this is not a factory problem, it sounds more like a supplier problem. Something happening somewhere far away and the supply chain for ingredients has been interrupted, is what it sounds like to me.

Chef Rob said...


Everything you describe really makes one wonder about what is going on throughout the supply chain.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

of course, the 1st world demand for quinoa is driving the price up in the south American countries that produce it, which is depriving the native people the traditional healthy benefits they got from it . . . oh globalization.

Anonymous said...

If comments 1 and 3 are examples of the unintended consequences of the global economy, what can be done reap the benefits while minimizing the undesirable effects, and doing it fairly? The solution that comes first to mind is be more local-minded in choices, but the genie is out of the bottle now and it's too late for people as individuals to survive solely on local choices -- to an extent, yes, but not completely, for instance the Rx example -- it's my understanding that many basic medicines are no longer produced domestically. So we are subject to the whims of whatever forces or influencers are at work in the various aspects of our lives.

Anonymous said...

Whole foods in Park Ridge,Illinois has never heard of kaniwa let alone carry it!

CharGC said...

Um, all chenopodium grow like weeds, as many are considered. Kaniwa is no exception. Plant some in your yard or ask some locals to try planting it!