Products like pinole chia oatmeal, nopales snack sticks, and quinoa pasta are honoring their ancestral past.
Photo by Maitane Romagosa from Thrillist
Despite the fact that they were first introduced to the world in 3500 BC, chia seeds became “trendy” around 2012. Wellness blogs everywhere touted the ancient superfood for its innumerable health benefits, and we found a way to sneak them into just about any recipe that could do with a little more fiber. But if you read the back of an average pouch, it was likely the brand had zero connection to the seed’s Aztec and Mayan origins.
Luckily things are changing, and we’re starting to see more and more members of the Latinx community take ownership of the superfoods that have long-fueled their cultures—from chocho and nopales to quinoa, and amaranth. Take, for example, The Pinole Project, a family-run oatmeal brand specializing in the Aztec superfood that is pinole, a ground heirloom corn sourced from Oaxaca, Mexico.
The Mexican-American Jacquez family founded The Pinole Project to honor their grandmother, Adela, who would add pinole to many of her dishes—specifically avena, or slow-cooked oatmeal. “Adela had a lot on her plate and looked to high-quality food to help push through her physically and mentally exhausting days raising a family and working on her and my grandfather’s humble ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico,” says Bella Jacquez, head of marketing for The Pinole Project.
Pinole offers sustained, plant-based energy, with high levels of fiber and protein. “It has a low glycemic index and is a complex carbohydrate, so it’s digested slowly, providing slow-burning energy which keeps you full for longer,” Jacquez says. That also means no spike or crash. “Many of our customers comment that they’ll eat a serving before or after an intense workout and will feel full for hours.”
It’s no wonder that pinole is a popular food among the Tarahumara, an indigenous community residing in the Sierra Madre region of Chihuahua. They’re renowned for their long-distance running ability, calling themselves the Rarámuri, which, in their native language, means “light feet” or “runners on foot.”
Jacquez’s grandfather, Arsenio, learned the language of the Tarahumana as a young child, and over the course of his 85 years of life, developed lasting bonds with them. “He used to go to the mountains with his father to trade with the Tarahumara, often serving as an interpreter,” Jacquez explains. “My grandparents would welcome Tarahumara into their home to provide shelter when needed, and to share stories. They were able to learn about the culture of running and pinole’s role as a nutritious pre-running meal.”
But beyond the health benefits and reverence to tradition, pinole tastes good. The brand’s oatmeal is a rethinking of your average Quaker Oats, with subtle hints of corn that add a welcome nuttiness.
Most important to the company, however, is its mission to tell the stories of their ancestors. “We believe we’re messengers trying to connect the past, present, and future—inspiring more people to connect with pinole, Mexican history, and food culture,” Jacquez says.
To incorporate more ancestral foods into everyday meals, check out these Latinx superfood brands:
A packet of Pinole Chia Oatmeal includes non-GMO heirloom corn, chia seeds, cinnamon, raw vegan cane sugar, and gluten-free oats, offering gut-friendly prebiotics that can aid in digestion. Each serving has 10 grams of fiber and 8-14 grams of protein depending on flavor. You can enjoy the corn-sugar-cinnamon combo on its own, or opt for the Banana Cinnamon and PB & Cacao flavors. A chuck in the microwave makes for a great, steamy bowl of oats in the morning, but you can also incorporate the mix into baked oats, overnight oats, waffles, pancakes, and muffins. “I find that when I’m craving something sweet, I’ll swap out the flour in cookie recipes with our original flavored product and bake some delicious protein and fiber pinole cookies,” Jacquez says.
This single-source, plant-based protein powder was founded by fifth-generation Ecuadorian farmer and former professional athlete, Ricky Echanique. It’s made from chocho, a powerful lupin that has been harvested for thousands of years by indigenous farmers. The protein grows in the Andes Mountains and contains plant fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, all nine essential amino acids, and as much calcium per serving as a glass of milk. Plus, it’s naturally regenerative, thriving on rain water alone and pulling nitrogen deep into the soil as it grows, making it more fertile for future crops. There are three varieties available—pure chocho, vanilla, and cacao—which each blend seamlessly into anything from smoothies to veggie burgers.
These crunchy snacks are made from nopales, the fiber-packed cactus pads that are a staple of Mexican cuisine (they’re on the flag, symbolizing the time when the Aztecs founded Mexico City, after seeing an eagle on top of a nopal). Nopales are rich in vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and other vitamins and minerals. When she moved to Chicago from Mexico City, founder Regina Trillo noticed a scarcity of nutritious, Latinx-owned food brands in the “ethnic aisle.” So she developed the Cheeto-like Nemi Snacks, which feature, in addition to nopal, some other Aztec superfoods, like amaranth, an ancient grain similar to quinoa, and spirulina, a blue-green algae that acts as a powerful antioxidant. The sticks come in four Latin-inspired flavors—Chile Turmeric, Churro, Mexican Lime, and Smoky Chipotle.
Born in Ecuador to a banana farmer and agricultural entrepreneur, Saskia Sorrosa founded Fresh Bellies, a family snack brand designed for preschoolers and their parents. Sorroso believes these snacks—made with the ancient whole grain sorghum—can train palates to crave savory flavors instead of sugars or extra saltiness. Sorghum is gluten-free, low in fat, rich in antioxidants, vitamins, has 22 grams of protein in one cup, and is a great source of fiber. The Groovies line features puffs that get their flavoring from actual vegetables, seasoned with spices inspired by Sorrosa’s heritage that you rarely find in kid food, like sage and garlic.
LiveKuna works directly with farmers in Ecuador to supply superfoods that are distributed worldwide. Friends Carlos Gutiérrez and Santiago Stacey launched with chia seeds, eventually incorporating other locally grown superfoods, like quinoa and amaranth, into cereals, pastas, and snack puffs. “We started this company out of curiosity and frustration knowing that 99% of chia seeds grown in our own country were being exported, and our own people who produced, were not taking advantage of this amazing seed. LiveKuna was then created to promote and bring superfood consumption back to its roots,” Santiago says on the brand’s website.
Husband-and-wife duo Lisa and Ismael Petrozzi founded Llamaland with the intent to celebrate Peru, home of some of the most nutritious superfoods in the world. Their cereals and spreads feature lesser-known superfood ingredients like arracacha, the “white carrot” of the Andes, sacha inchi, known as the “nut of the Incas,” and camu camu, one of the world’s most abundant sources of natural vitamin C. The brand’s best-selling Lucuma Superfruit Spread is made of the ancient superfruit lucuma, or the “gold of the Incas.” You can smear this caramel-like spread on pancakes, or use it to top off ice cream.