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These three grains are also outstandingly nutritious. Their food value relates particularly to their unusual proteins. All food proteins are composed of differing amounts of 20 amino acids. A few of these cannot be manufactured in the body and are generally referred to as “limiting,” because once the body runs out of any one of them, it stops synthesizing proteins. In most plant proteins the three limiting amino acids are lysine, methionine, and tryptophan. But in the protein of kaniwa, kiwicha, and quinoa, the levels of lysine and tryptophan are excellent and the methionine level is adequate. This makes these three grains unusual among plant foods. Indeed, they approach animal foods such as milk or meat in their protein quality.

The current limitation of native grains is their low productivity. This can be overcome. Researchers have shown, for example, that substantial yield increases can be achieved through applying a little fertilizer and through the use of better selected seeds. Given such attention, the ancient grains of the Incas seem capable of yielding as much as the best products of modern science—especially under marginal conditions. In overall production, none seem likely to rise to the heady heights of wheat, rice, and corn (the world's top three cereal crops), but they all can play a much bigger role in feeding the world than they do today.


Kiwicha is described in a later chapter (page 139), but here we present the history of its recent resurrection in the Andes. Our purpose is to provide an example of what can be accomplished with the now little-known grains (as well as the other types of crops) that once fed the Incas.

After hundreds of years of lying dormant, kiwicha is being reborn. The “midwife” pulling it into the modern world and breathing new life into it is Luis Sumar Kalinowski, a scientist from the ancient Inca capital, Cuzco. Sumar and his colleagues proudly call themselves “kiwilocos”—because, they say, they're crazy about kiwicha.

In global terms, today's kiwicha plantings are still small, but they are astounding considering that just 10 years ago the plant had all but vanished. Peru's commercial kiwicha cultivation had risen to more than 700 hectares by 1988, not including several hundred hectares cultivated by farmers for their own use. These days, people looking down into the Sacred Valley of the Incas—the Vilcanota—can see it studded once more with brilliant red kiwicha fields. Peruvian farmers produced about 1,200 tons of kiwicha grain in 1988, most destined for a children's breakfast program in the Cuzco schools.

Now, in Peru's village markets and city supermarkets, the grain can be found in both raw and processed forms, ranging from breakfast foods to

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