Despite all its qualities, tarwi is almost unknown as a crop outside the Andes. It has been held back mainly because its seeds are bitter. However, this can be overcome. The bitter principles (alkaloids) are water soluble, and they are traditionally removed by soaking the seeds for several days in running water. Technology now has modernized the process to the point where it can be done in a matter of hours. Also, in another approach to removing the bitterness, geneticists in several countries have created “sweet” varieties whose seeds are almost free of bitterness and need little or no washing. These efforts would appear to pave the way for a future role for tarwi in world agriculture.
Andean Region. Tarwi is found from Venezuela to northern Chile and Argentina, and in this area it is already getting modern attention. Engineers in Peru and Chile have developed machinery to debitter tarwi seeds. Indeed, small industrial installations are now operating at Cuzco and Huancayo in Peru.
Their product is being used to feed schoolchildren and to produce a line of cereals. Also, researchers in Chile and Bolivia have created varieties with only one-thousandth of the alkaloid levels found in bitter types.
Given these advances, tarwi cultivation and use should expand in the Andes. This is significant because the crop is an important contributor to the nutritional well-being of many campesinos for whom meat is a luxury. The highland diet is low in protein and calories, and the quality protein and high oil content of tarwi seed provide a double nutritional benefit.
Other Developing Areas. The lengthy process of washing the seeds has previously hindered tarwi's introduction to areas outside the Andes. However, the sweet types could make the plant into a major crop for tropical highlands and for a number of temperate regions. So far it is barely known outside of South America, but a hopeful sign is that in Chapingo, Mexico, tarwi has produced high yields of seed.