Recently we looked at the merits of chia, which hails from the high Andes region of South America, now Andrew Hamilton explains why another South American seed called kaniwa is definitely worthy of consideration.


Life for plants growing 14,000 feet up in the high Andes of equatorial South America is tough. Bombarded daily with levels of ultra-violet radiation that would fry the average Brit in three minutes flat, crops grown here also have to contend with frequent and prolonged drought. But there’s obviously something about this climate that produces nutritious grains and seeds. Many of us will be familiar with quinoa – a grain renowned for its healthy nutritional profile – and we recently saw how chia seeds from the same region provide unbelievably high levels of omega-3 fats and minerals such as zinc. Well, kaniwa is another that will spice up your diet and keep you healthy into the bargain. Kaniwa (pronounced ka-nyi-wa) is a species of the goosefoot plant and also goes by the more technical name of Chenopodium pallidicaule. The word kaniwa sounds a bit like quinoa, and it turns out that the two species are actually closely related (quinoa’s full name is Chenopodium quinoa).

Nutritional qualities

Although quinoa is renowned as a healthy grain-like seed, kaniwa offers some distinct nutritional advantages over its more popular cousin. These include a higher nutrient density (on a gram-for-gram basis kaniwa provides more nutrients such as protein, antioxidants and iron than quinoa), has a quicker cooking time (thanks to a smaller seed size) and the fact (unlike quinoa) that it doesn’t need to be rinsed prior to cooking because it doesn’t contain any bitter-tasting saponins. Like quinoa, kaniwa is gluten free, making it a great source of carbohydrate for those who need to follow wheat/gluten-free diets, and it also shares the slightly sweet taste of quinoa. However, when kaniwa is cooked, it retains a somewhat crunchy texture – in contrast to the fluffy nature of quinoa. In terms of its nutritional content kaniwa is a good source of protein, providing good amounts of all the essential amino acids, along with high levels of fibre, iron and calcium. Kaniwa is also a great source of phenolic antioxidants – the sort that are particularly beneficial for heart health.

Cooking with kaniwa 

Cooking kaniwa is very straightforward – simply add the kaniwa to a saucepan and add double the volume of water then simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. As mentioned, the absence of bitter-tasting saponins means that kaniwa does not need to be rinsed prior to cooking. For a slightly richer flavour, you can toast the kaniwa under the grill before cooking it.

Meal ideas

Kaniwa is very versatile indeed, and its slightly sweet flavour means that it can be used in place of oatmeal for breakfast – just simmer the seeds in milk, add some warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg then add some honey or maple syrup and some crunchy toasted nuts and seeds for a delicious porridge alternative. If you don’t want the hassle of cooking breakfast, Kaniwa can also be used as a breakfast cereal substitute – serve it with fresh fruit and chopped nuts. It’s also a tasty accompaniment to savoury dishes. Kaniwa’s mildly nutty and slightly sweet flavour goes well with meats, and seafood, as well as vegetables, soups and casseroles. You can boost the protein content of soups and stews by simply adding kaniwa while they’re simmering on the stove. Simply add some in at the start of cooking, and make sure that there is enough broth or water in the saucepan to cook the kaniwa. If you prefer raw vegetables, kaniwa is the perfect salad base too thanks to its slightly crunchy, nutty qualities, which perfectly compliments freshly chopped vegetables.


14,000ft up in the Andes. Home of Kaniwa

Recipe idea: Coconut Kaniwa Salad

This is an easy-toprepare, delicious and super-healthy dish that will appeal to even the most hardened veggiephobe!


  • 100g of kaniwa seeds
  • 450mls of coconut milk

To prepare the coconut kaniwa, add the kaniwa seeds and coconut milk to a saucepan. Bring to a boil then let it simmer on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. While this is cooking, it’s time to prepare the salad veg.

Salad ingredients

  • 2 parsnips
  • 4 carrots
  • 1/2 small red cabbage
  • 1 cup lightly toasted walnuts
  • 1 handful fresh rosemary leaves

Peel off the outer skin of the parsnips and carrots using a potato peeler then continue peeling to make tagliatelle-like veggie strands and add to a large bowl. Halve the cabbage head and shred one half very thinly using a sharp knife. Add the shredded cabbage to the bowl of shredded parsnips and carrots. Toast the walnuts until golden in a dry frying pan on medium heat and add along with the rosemary leaves and cooked coconut Kaniwa to the bowl.

Dressing ingredients

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp of virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp of honey or maple syrup
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 tsp of black pepper
  • 1 tbsp of water
  • 2 tbsp of tamari

Crush the clove of garlic and add to a small cup. Add all other dressing ingredients and whisk together with a fork. Pour dressing over the kaniwa and veggies and toss well. Serve and enjoy!

WORDS: Andrew Hamilton

Get more tasty recipes and nutrition advice in our nutrition section or find out more about another grain – Teff