Is Chocho the New Quinoa? This Ancient South American Legume is Being Heralded as the Next Big Superfood

Quinoa isn’t the only superfood to emerge from the Andes Mountains. This grain-like seed, a staple of the Incan diet, rose to fame in the U.S. for its impressive protein content, whole-grain/gluten-free goodness, and “ancient” pedigree.

Now there’s another ancient food from the Andean region that’s about to emerge as the newest superfood.

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Chocho (Andean Lupin) is a legume that’s been a core component of Ecuadorian and Peruvian cuisine for ages.

3193685661_8e3e66c9f5_bThis dense, white bean is rich in protein (even more than quinoa and soy beans), contains healthy fats (omega-3s) and is high in fiber and minerals.

Chocho beans, technically Lupinus mutabilis, were a major part of the ancient Andean diet and they’re eaten today in Ecuador, Peru (known as tarwi) and Bolivia as a snack or an ingredient in soups, stews, ceviches and other dishes.

The beans are also ground into a protein-rich flour and used in bread, desserts and drinks.

Laylita’s Recipes has a tasty-looking recipe for Vegetarian Ceviche de Chochos, which this Ecuadorian food blogger says is a popular street food in her country.

Chochos are not readily available in the U.S., although the closest thing would be lupini beans, which you can find in Italian and Latin markets (often brined in jars).

If you’re looking for chochos, just don’t confuse this South American bean with chayote, which is a type of squash that is sometimes referred to as chocho (along with vegetable pear, mirliton and other names).

Chayote is native to Mexico and Central America, or you’ll sometimes hear it called Jamaican chocho. But remember, this is a squash, and Andean chochos are beans.

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Even though you can’t really find chochos in this country, that hasn’t stopped the buzz that’s beginning to build for this ancient bean.  Here’s a BBC feature: This ancient Ecuadorean legume being hailed as a new superfood. Or take a look at this segment below.

This is all fine, but all beans are good beans. There’s a lot to love about all legumes. It would be great if more people sought out the array of canned or dry beans that are readily available on supermarket shelves. They’re all pretty super to me. One downside to chochos is the sharp, bitter alkaloids they contain. The fresh beans need to be soaked for several days, rinsed and cooked for a significant amount of time to remove the bitterness. That may be one barrier to having this crop gain greater acceptance in America, along with the lack of research and promotion, according to a report from Purdue University on Andean Grains and Legumes.

I do find it interesting that there are varieties of plants that we don’t regularly grow here in this country that might be good additions to the American diet — and just like quinoa, some of these plants are native of South America. That was the focus of a report from the National Academy of Sciences, Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. That’s why I think registered dietitian Manuel Villacorta may be on to something with his new book that will be released in October: Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes. Manuel calls Peru “the new superfood capital of the world.” Plus, Peruvian cuisine is one the hottest culinary trends right now.

Lots of good stuff comes out of Peru.  Besides quinoa, we have Peru to thank for potatoes. I just hope that if there’s momentum for chocho, or other South American superfoods, that people actually eat the foods — and not run out and buy pills, potions or processed foods that are fortified with tiny amounts of these superfood ingredients. I just hope we don’t start seeing belly-fat blasting chocho products being promoted on Dr. Oz, or internet ads selling chocho supplements and drinks.

Let this bean be a bean — nutritious yes, magical no. And let’s hope more people start embracing more beans of all kinds.

Images courtesy of minimallyinvasivenj eveemshwiller and bronniewin on flickr.com

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