A Brief Guide to Peruvian Superfoods (That Aren’t Quinoa)

Learn about a few new superfoods, and read on for a hearty recipe!

Home to more superfoods than any other country on the planet, Peru is the ultimate place to learn and study their benefits. On our FP Escapes adventure (in partnership with YOGASCAPES), Superfood Civilization, we’ll be doing just that — visiting farms, meeting chefs, and diving into the many nutritional benefits of a superfood diet. Today, contributor Victoria Lewis introduces us to some lesser-known Peruvian superfoods, a few of which we’ll encounter on our FP Escape to Peru.

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When people start talking about Peru and superfoods, inevitably the conversation finds its way to quinoa. In fact, the little nutrient-packed seeds are so popular that Peru exported more than twelve thousand tons of them in the first half of 2015 alone. But, though there’s no doubt that quinoa is a VIP in the superfood arena, there are hundreds (really) of others with major health benefits, too. And while you may still have to travel to the remote villages of the high Andes or the far banks of the Amazon River to find some of them, many are becoming more readily available at local supermarkets right here in the US.

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Nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, MS RD (and founder of wholebodyreboot.com), has spent much of his life researching the superfoods of his native Peru. So much so that he’s written two books on the topic. “When I looked at the people living in the Andes and the Amazon areas,” recalls Villacorta, “the diabetes rate was less than 1%, obesity wasn’t an issue and metabolic syndromes didn’t even exist.” The main difference between these rural people and their city-dwelling counterparts? Superfood-rich diets.

According to Villacorta, there’s not really a scientific definition for superfoods. However, he likes to describe them as “foods that not only have higher than average concentrations of vitamins and minerals, but also have antioxidants.” And while each superfood is unique, according to him they share four major characteristics in common. First, they’re heart-healthy. In other words, they decrease bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, are anti-inflammatory and help to lower blood pressure. They’re also immune boosters thanks to their high antioxidant and phytonutrient contents. They’re anti-aging (they literally keep your insides from succumbing to the diseases that age you). And finally, they’re good for the gut and digestion because they act as prebiotics.

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So, because everyone could use a break from their quinoa salad routine from time to time, here are a few of Villacorta’s favorite Peruvian superfoods to get into your dietary rotation:

Pichuberry

This little plant looks like a yellow tomato, but tastes sweet and tart like a berry. According to Villacorta, ¾ cup of the fresh berries provide 39% of your daily value of Vitamin D. “It’s hard to find a plant-based form of Vitamin D,” says Villacorta. “So this is outstanding.” It’s worth noting, that Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so you need to eat the seeds of the berry to get the full benefit. “The seeds not only have the fat your body needs to absorb the D Vitamins,” Villacorta adds, “but they also have stanols, which help you lower bad cholesterol.” Additionally, pichuberries are rich in the phytonutrient withanolide (the same thing that makes turmeric a potent antioxidant, hence the yellow color that they share). A serving also has about 1.7 grams of protein and a very low glycemic index. To eat them, Villacorta recommends throwing a few in yogurt or oatmeal, putting them on a pizza, or even dipping the berries in chocolate for a healthy snack.

Maca

Originally from the Andes, this root is considered an adaptogen, which means it helps to bring the body back into equilibrium. “Everybody’s stressed out these days,” says Villacorta. “Maca helps to bring you to homeostasis.” Originally sought out for its ability to increase sex drive in men and women, researchers are now looking at maca’s many other benefits. “It’s a caffeine-free source of energy,” explains Villacorta. “A lot of sports nutritionists recommend it for athletes because it increases your oxygen consumption. In ancient times, the Peruvian people would take it before they went out to fight in a war or started a monumental construction project.” It’s also known to act on the pituitary gland to help regulate hormones and lessen the symptoms of menopause in women. However, you can’t just take it once and immediately feel the benefits. Villacorta recommends starting by adding a teaspoon of maca powder to your smoothie or breakfast bowl a few times a week. Eventually, women can work up to about two teaspoons and men to a full tablespoon. “It doesn’t work overnight,” cautions Villacorta. “It has a cumulative effect, so you need to take it for at least ten days before you’ll start to see the results.”

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Purple Potatoes

Similar to the beloved antioxidant-rich blueberry, purple potatoes are rich in anthocyanin. This phytonutrient helps to block the absorption of starch, allowing the nutrients from the potato to be delivered to the body without any of the bad stuff. As a result, these potatoes actually help with weight regulation, instead of harming. They’re also anti-inflammatory and have four times more antioxidants than a regular potato, according to Villacorta. These days, you can find them in the produce section at most organic supermarkets.

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Kiwicha

Villacorta calls this “quinoa’s little sister.” More commonly known stateside as Amaranth, kiwicha has a similar nutrition profile (high protein, gluten free) to quinoa, but can be used for many different recipes. “I like to pop amaranth like popcorn,” says Villacorta. “Then you can throw it into yogurt like a cereal in the morning or use it as a gluten-free replacement for bread crumbs.” To pop, just heat a frying pan (with no oil) to a very high temperature, drop in about a tablespoon of kiwicha and cover the pan while it pops. “It’s high in antioxidants and high in protein,” says Villacorta. “Plus it has all the nine essential amino acids and is a great source of healthy carbohydrates.”

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Need a little inspiration for how to work these superstar foods into your everyday diet? Here are three of Villacorta’s favorite superfood-packed recipes to try:

Purple Potato Frittata

This traditional Italian-inspired frittata is infused with Peruvian power foods to enhance your breakfast and optimize your energy.

Servings: 6

Serving size: 1 wedge

Ingredients:

Oil spray

3 medium purple potatoes, cut into ½-inch-thick rounds

½ medium yellow onion, sliced into ½-inch-thick rounds

3 cups sliced mushrooms

2 cups spinach

6 eggs

2 tablespoons ají amarillo paste (or mild chili paste)

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly spray a sheet pan with oil.
  2. Place the potato and onion slices on the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake vegetables until tender, about 30 to 40 minutes.
  3. While the potatoes and onions are roasting, lightly spray a medium sauté pan with oil and place it over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the mushrooms and the spinach. Cook until the vegetables are lightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  4. Put the eggs, ají, and cilantro in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
  5. When the potatoes and onions are done, remove them from the oven (leaving the oven on) and arrange half of them in the bottom of a well-oiled 8-inch cast-iron pan. Top with the spinach mixture and the remaining potatoes and onions.
  6. Place the cast-iron pan over medium heat. When you hear cracking, pour the egg mixture over the top. Continue cooking the frittata on the stove top until the sides set and become slightly puffy, about 5 to 7 minutes.
  7. Immediately transfer the frittata to the preheated oven to bake the top, about 5 to 7 minutes longer. Frittata should be slightly puffy and golden on top. Let the frittata cool slightly before serving.

Note: The frittata will keep in the refrigerator for three to five days.

(From Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet)

 

Dark Chocolate–Covered Pichuberries

 A super low-fat and low-calorie dessert full of antioxidants—perfect for satisfying a sweet tooth guilt-free.

Servings: 12

Serving size: 1 pichuberry

Ingredients:

½ bar (50 grams) dark chocolate, 70–80%

12 pichuberries

Directions:

  1. Finely chop the chocolate and put it in a stainless steel bowl.
  2. Fill a small saucepan with 3 to 4 inches of water and bring to a boil. Place the bowl of chocolate so that it sits on top of the saucepan without touching the water. Lower the heat to a simmer and stir the chocolate until it’s melted. Once melted, remove the bowl from the heat and stir until smooth and shiny.
  3. Dip each pichuberry, holding the husk out of the way, into the chocolate and cover completely. Place each pichuberry on a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper.
  4. Allow the chocolate-covered pichuberries to harden for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Note: Chocolate-covered pichuberries will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.

(From Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet)

 

Kiwicha Chicken Nuggets

While we were researching kiwicha and other superfoods in Cusco, we noticed that local restaurants used the grain to “bread” meat. That’s when we realized kiwicha makes a great gluten-free option for chicken nuggets.

Serves: 6

Ingredients
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup popped kiwicha (3 tablespoons raw)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
¼ cup olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut the chicken into 1½-inch cubes. In a bowl, mix together the kiwicha, cheese, salt, thyme, and basil.
  3. Dip the chicken into olive oil to coat and roll it in the kiwicha mixture to evenly bread the chicken.
  4. Place coated chicken pieces on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turning the chicken over after 10 minutes.

(From Peruvian Power Foods)

Photos Courtesy of Naomi Huober and Manuel Villacorta

FP Escapes: Peru

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Comments

  1. I am from Lima,Peru and everytime some of our products (superfoods) become popular in the world ,Here in Peru is so much expensive and they leave here the most worst looking ,small or bruised products.
    For example :When i was little quinua was so cheap(8 soles =2 dolars) i ate it EVERY DAY but now just 1 kilo of quinua is (35 to 40 soles = 11 dollars ) and for the mayority of people here is a lot ,now i only eat it like once a month .
    So This is something that is happening in just 10 years (i am 18).

  2. Valeria makes a very good point – we as consumers need to be aware of our impact. There are so many trendy foods that the Western world rushes to embrace, and so little talk about how it impacts others. What Valeria is saying is true, Peruvians have been heavily impacted by the demand for quinoa. Another example that is not impacting a single country but is a problem is greek yogurt – the liquid byproduct is a pollutant and popularity is making it an issue. I hope that by pointing these two different issues out I don’t sound preachy but make a point – sometimes the things we like can have a huge impact – and you’d never know about unless you did some research.

  3. Great post! I live in Peru and love being able to get these items in my local market but I agree with Valeria, the ‘West’ is wanting more and more super foods and the price is just increasing here. It can be hard to find some items due to the ‘Western’ demand, far more is exported than is available here. Peruvian coffee for example, I can buy it fair trade and organic back in England but the majority of what can be found here is Nestle. Which is what many Peruvians drink as its what they can afford and find. Its quite sad really.

    Fun fact though… Did you know Potatoes and Tomatoes originate from Peru?! They travelled the world with the Spanish and became a staple in many parts of the world!

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