As we know, Peru is a rich country in many respects. From its countless archaeological ruins to its incredible gastronomic revolution, everything in Peru is something worth knowing. And within the Andean country, you will find numerous fruits, tubers, and seeds of great nutritional value. Therefore, it would not be surprising that Peru is considered the world capital of superfoods. Superfoods have a great influence on the constant growth and evolution of Peruvian cuisine. That is why, together with the travel experts at Machu Travel Peru, we have proposed to list those Peruvian superfoods that you cannot stop trying on your next trip. From quinoa to tarwi, you can find these superfoods in any store or restaurant in Peru. Check out some of these amazing foods.
Peruvian superfoods you must try while in the Andean country
Quinoa was the preferred food of the ancient Andean warriors who needed energy. Now, the so-called “gold of the Incas” is the preferred food of North America, Asia, and Europe, to name a few countries. Thanks to its high levels of protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, lysine, manganese, and vitamin B12, zinc, copper, and potassium, it qualifies as one of the best Peruvian superfoods. This star ingredient is great for digestion and is only a seed. On your next trip to Peru, you will find different types of Quinoa, all wonderful for your health. Quinoa helps prevent heart disease and high cholesterol levels, not to mention its amazing and delicious taste. This superfood usually grows in the Andean regions of Peru and is boiled like a grain. Many Peruvian desserts include quinoa as one of their main ingredients.
In Peru, quinoa was already an undeniable superstar among the foods of the local diet. Quinoa, scientifically known as Chenopodium Quinoa, was cultivated in the Andes for thousands and thousands of years. It is a plant that has flowers and is part of the Amaranth family. Quinoa seeds are gluten-free, making them a popular choice for people with celiac disease. Quinoa is native to the Lake Titicaca basin, located in the highlands of Peru. Ancient settlers have consumed quinoa for more than 4,000 years. Before human consumption, it was used to feed livestock for more than 7,000 years. So this exceptional plant already has quite a long history. It wasn’t until 2013 and 2014 that this superfood gained real popularity.
- GROWING REGIONS: Quinoa grows both in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. It is an incredibly resistant crop to difficult climates such as those in the heights.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: The optimum elevation for the growth of this crop is between 2,500 and 3,900 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: It is a complete protein food, as it has nine essential amino acids. It is also rich in magnesium, fiber, calcium, antioxidants, iron, B vitamins, and vitamin E among other things.
- BENEFITS: It is highly beneficial for health due to its high protein content. It is a favorite superfood among vegetarians and vegans. Since the healthy fiber content helps reduce both cholesterol and sugar levels. In addition, it contributes to weight loss and with its rich iron content, improves brain function and oxygenates the blood.
- RECIPES: There are a wide variety of recipes that use Quinoa. It can be used as an incredible alternative to rice in any of your dishes.
Cocoa is one of the most recognized Peruvian superfoods worldwide. Cacao is native to the Amazon basin and the surrounding Andean regions in Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. This superfood is rich in minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins, among other excellent characteristics. Its consumption helps protect the heart and is a natural mood enhancer. This incredible food contains more calcium per cup than the same milk cow. Many of the cocoa processing techniques tend to eliminate the many benefits of this superfood. But fortunately, more and more producers decide to make use of raw cocoa and take advantage of its natural capacities. Certain tours in Peru offer the possibility of visiting the Chocomuseum, an incredible experience where you can learn how to make your homemade chocolate bar.
The Theobroma Cacao plant produces the coveted cocoa beans. Although its dry and fermented seeds are the ones that produce the well-known chocolate. The cocoa so loved throughout the world, is native to the Peruvian Amazon basin and the vicinity of the Peruvian Andes. In addition, it also grows in Colombia and Ecuador naturally. This delicious and popular superfood is rich in lots of antioxidants and minerals. In fact, its scientific name, Theobroma, translates from Latin to Spanish as “food of the gods.” Formerly, this food was used by native communities medicinally and spiritually. They used cocoa to make sparkling full-bodied infusions mixed with spices, fruit juices, and even other medicinal plants.
- GROWING REGIONS: Cocoa is grown in the deep Amazon regions of Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. Although crops are also often seen in the Andean foothills of Peru.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: Cocoa can grow between heights of 30 to 300 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: It has a large number of essential minerals such as iron, calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, and copper. In addition, it has theobromine, caffeine, and antioxidant flavonoids.
- BENEFITS: It is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and to stimulate the immune system. It can even fight heart disease and even certain types of cancer. Besides, it can also help fight anxiety and depression. It is an excellent ingredient to elevate your mood and increase your energy levels.
- RECIPES: Raw cacao tastes quite bitter. Only with additives such as sugar, milk, and other flavorings does it gain its characteristic flavor. Cocoa is used both in chocolate bars and in a wide variety of desserts. Hot chocolate and tea made from cocoa shells are quite famous preparations. Some people looking to increase the benefits often sprinkle raw seeds over granola or mix the raw powder into their different shakes.
This popular root is a tuber very similar in appearance to the average potato. Maca is one of the Peruvian superfoods whose popularity has grown in recent years. It has also gained some popularity around the world, especially in the United States and Canada. This root grows at high altitudes, between 2,000 and 4,000 feet tall. This comes in a large number of different varieties that are distinguished by the color of the root of each one. Maca root belongs to the same family as broccoli and radish. It is considered one of the healthiest natural ingredients in the world, with benefits such as improved testosterone production, improved libido, cardiovascular disease prevention, energizer, and much more. If you are looking for tips for healthy travel, we recommend you try the delicious Peruvian Maca. A Maca breakfast can be a great alternative to a delicious Peruvian coffee.
Maca is scientifically known as Lepidium Meyenii. This superfood is a cruciferous root vegetable that resembles a turnip or radish. Maca root is also often known as the equivalent of Peruvian ginseng. Not because there is some relationship between the plants, but because of the effects it causes. Especially that it usually gives physical resistance and gives sexual energy. Studies indicate that maca was an important part of the diet of the expanding Inca Empire. Also, stories are known of Inca warriors who were fed heavy diets to prepare them for battle. Today Maca is known to be a natural energizer par excellence and is consumed in many parts of South America.
- GROWING REGIONS: Maca is native to the Junín region in Peru. Maca grows in the central Andes of the Andean country. It has been cultivated in these regions for more than 2,000 years.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: The Junín area is characterized by being at altitudes that reach between 3600 meters and 4480 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: Maca is very rich in fiber, protein, and carbohydrates. Maca is conveniently low in sodium and fat. In addition, it is rich in calcium and potassium.
- BENEFITS: Maca root is an adaptogen, which means that it is a substance that enhances resistance and reduces the state of alarm. This makes depletion more difficult to produce. Maca increases the body’s resistance to certain diseases. And it also has many medicinal properties as it increases fertility and is an excellent natural aphrodisiac. Maca works in a way that balances the endocrine system, relieving fatigue, balancing mood, and increasing energy.
- RECIPES: In Peru, Maca is used to make both infusions and bread, porridges, and other cooked foods. It is used to flavor meat and potatoes. Although outside of Peru, maca is available in liquid, powder, or pill form. It is an excellent alternative to mix with smoothies. When cooked, Maca gains an aroma similar to caramel.
Chancaca, also known as Panela, is one of the best alternatives to refined sugar. Although sugar is increasingly undeniably associated with the obesity epidemic in the world, Panela is a much healthier alternative to sugar. Panela is a solidified form of pure cane sugar. Being unrefined, Chancaca is full of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, copper, selenium, and iron. If used in moderation, Chancaca can be a great substitute for refined sugar or existing corn syrup. Despite being considered a Peruvian superfood, its consumption has to be moderate and conscientious. It may be a bit difficult to get in markets in the United States or elsewhere, but within the Andean lands, this is undoubtedly an easy product to get. The great biodiversity in Peru is reflected in its ingredients and Peruvian superfoods.
Panela is not one of the Peruvian superfoods per se. Since it is simply unrefined whole cane sugar. This is boiled and evaporated from the sugar cane plant, also known as Saccharum Officinarum. In a world where many people see the negative effects of refined sugar, panela is a welcome commodity. This low glycemic index unrefined sweetener has taken the world by storm. You can find this ingredient at any of the available farmer’s markets. Although indeed, it is still essentially a type of sugar, as it is not refined it has a greater amount of micronutrients. Making it an excellent alternative for health-conscious people.
- GROWING REGIONS: Panela is derived from sugar cane. And sugarcane is a type of perennial crop that grows in both tropical and subtropical climates.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: Sugarcane can grow in regions up to 600 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: Panela contains a large amount of magnesium, iron, and calcium. It also has amounts of VITAMIN A, B, C, D, and E. It also has some amounts of potassium, iron, zinc, manganese, and other minerals.
- BENEFITS: It is an excellent option with a low glycemic index since it has immunological benefits and high levels of micronutrients. It is excellent for preventing anemia and fighting urinary and respiratory diseases. It has a fairly sweet flavor but depending on the region the flavor can vary. You can feel some notes of caramel, fruits, flowers, burnt sugar, and even molasses.
- RECIPES: In Peru, panela is used to make chancaca. This is a warm, sweet preparation made with cinnamon and orange peel. It is used in a wide variety of Peruvian desserts. But in other parts of the world, it may be one of the best alternatives to sugar.
5. COCA LEAF
The coca leaf is not only one of the most important Peruvian superfoods, it is also a crucial part of the Andean culture. It is one of the most iconic and emblematic plants of the Andean lands. When traveling to Cusco or Machu Picchu, you will surely have your first contact with this magical plant. Traditionally, people chewed this leaf to avoid fatigue and alleviate hunger. Its natural and unrefined consumption has to stop being related to the negative effects of cocaine. The coca leaf is full of minerals, essential vitamins, and alkaloids that help to cope with the great heights of Peru. Coca stimulates the immune system, increasing your body’s ability to metabolize negative compounds in your body. If you plan to go for a hike, a coca tea for altitude sickness can help you feel more energetic and vital.
Coca is also scientifically known as Erythroxylum coca. This is cultivated throughout all of Peru. From its Amazon basin to the Peruvian Andes. Although it also grows in Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. Coca was traditionally a healthy ingredient used for both medicinal and spiritual purposes. Coca is also used to produce the drug cocaine. As a result, its cultivation has become the controversial focus of numerous anti-drug policies. Despite this, its leaves are a true Peruvian superfood. The leaves had a strong role in the medicinal and ceremonial rituals of the Andean culture. The villagers have cultivated its leaves for more than 8000 years.
- GROWING REGIONS: Coca leaves grow both in the lowlands of the Amazon basin and in the tropical forests of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: In general, coca leaves can grow naturally between 600 and 800 meters above sea level. But crops have also been seen between 1880 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: Coca leaves are packed with vitamins E, C, B6, B2, B1, and A. Its leaves are also rich in minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. It is also a great source of fiber and protein.
- BENEFITS: Coca leaves have numerous beneficial health properties. It has diuretic properties, fights anemia, and regulates metabolism. Besides, it helps improve liver function and lowers triglycerides and cholesterol. It is also excellent for increasing physical endurance. But in Peru, it is often used to combat altitude sickness.
- RECIPES: Traditionally, coca leaves are chewed or drunk in an infusion. There are also sweets, powders, and even flours made from coca. It has a slightly bitter and earthy flavor, with some sweet hues. It is spicy and pleasant at the same time.
6. SACHA INCHI
As with most Peruvian superfoods, Sacha Inchi, or “Maní Inca” was one of the favorite foods of the majestic Incas. This star ingredient is very similar to walnut and was consumed centuries before North American health advocates were aware of it. The Incas used to consume this seed before its popularity grew to give it the title of one of the many Peruvian superfoods. This seed is rich in omega fatty acids, protein, fiber and also contains vitamins A and E. Being able to eat these roasted seeds or use unrefined virgin Sacha Inchi oil has numerous health benefits. It is beneficial for the eyes, hair, skin and reduces cholesterol significantly. The seed and its oil have direct benefits for the skin, hair, and eyes and help reduce cholesterol levels. Some alternative Peruvian ceviche recipes even include this iconic superfood.
Sacha Inchi is another perennial crop, scientifically known as Plukenetia Volubilis. It is indigenous to the high-altitude rainforest on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes. This plant usually flourishes in somewhat acidic and alluvial soils. Its fruit is green and has a shape that resembles a star. Its pods have oval seeds very similar to almonds. In some archaeological excavations, scientists found representations of this plant in numerous vessels from Inca tombs. This suggests that ancient people consumed and traded this seed for hundreds of years.
- GROWING REGIONS: The Sacha Inchi was cultivated for hundreds of years on the eastern slopes of the Andes.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: Sacha Inchi can be grown at heights from 50 meters to 2,100 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: Sacha Inchi has very high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and healthy proteins. In addition, they are an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamins A and E, tryptophan, zinc, calcium, potassium, and fiber.
- BENEFITS: The consumption of this seed helps reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Thanks to its Omega 3 content, it can improve cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol, stimulate brain function and protect against certain types of cancer.
- RECIPES: People in Peru use both roasted seeds and their cooked leaves. There are even oils extracted from this Peruvian superfood. The raw seeds of Sacha Inchi are not edible at all. Usually, the product is sold in sealed packages with the seeds already roasted.
7. CAMU CAMU
Superfoods are considered as such due to their richness in various and beneficial nutrients for health. A single serving of these foods is capable of supplementing a large number of other known foods. The Camu Camu berry is another of the Peruvian superfoods that you cannot miss on your next trip. This small berry with a tangy taste is rich in vitamin C. A single serving of Camu Camu is estimated to have 50 times more vitamin C than can be found in an orange.
Camu Camu is also considered a natural antidepressant. The berry is reddish and grows in the swampy regions of the Peruvian Amazon. The fruit decomposes very quickly, so it is usually rare to see it outside these regions. You can only see it in powder form in most stores and places outside of Peru. If you want to taste it fresh, better take a trip to the source and enjoy the exclusive tourism in Peru.
Camu Camu is a cherry-sized fruit with a red and purple color. This fruit comes from a shrub with the scientific name Myrciaria Dubia. This fruit is native to the rainforests of the lowlands of the Amazon in Brazil and Peru. A curious fact is how this plant can survive up to 5 months underwater. Many people harvest Camu Camu by canoe. Thanks to the Camu Camu skin, the different shakes get an incredible pink tone. This fruit is recognized for its high levels of vitamin C.
- GROWING REGIONS: Camu Camu grows in the lowlands and alluvial plains of the Peruvian Amazon. Although it is also known for crops in the Brazilian Amazon. It usually grows on the banks of rivers, lagoons, and streams.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: Camu Camu generally grows between sea level and 60 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: Camu Camu berry is an unparalleled natural source of vitamin C. It is known to have 30 to 50 times more vitamin C per ounce than oranges. It is also an incredible source of antioxidants, iron, potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, and niacin.
- BENEFITS: Its high levels of vitamin C help improve the immune system. It has anti-aging effects. And its antioxidants can prevent carcinogens from binding to DNA. It is also used in traditional medicine as an excellent antiviral. It is used to treat cold, flu, and herpes symptoms.
- RECIPES: In Peru, Camu Camu pulp is used to add flavor to artisan ice creams and other smoothies. Outside of Brazil and Peru, Camu Camu can be found in pulp, powder, and even pill extract.
The Olluco is a tuber that has existed for thousands of years. These have a similar appearance to the potato but are completely different species from a botanical point of view. Its texture, however, is much crunchier and its flavor is also very different. This Peruvian superfood is very popular in the cuisine of all of Peru, including it in many dishes from the Andean lands. It is commonly used in stews and soups, and the spinach-like leaves that come from this plant are also used for fresh and cooked salads. The Olluco is rich in proteins, fiber, calcium, and vitamins A and C among other benefits. Therefore, an Olluco broth can be highly beneficial for digestion, in addition to providing good nutritional value to our meals. Today, many renowned chefs decide to reinvent fusion food dishes and add Peruvian superfoods such as Olluco.
The Olluco is known as the Ullucus Tuberosus. The Olluco is a type of flowering plant that is used mainly as a kind of tuber. Although many times its leaves are also used as they are rich in nutrients. The Olluco closely resembles the Potatoes, but surprisingly they are a completely different species from a botanical point of view. This nutritious food was consumed by the indigenous peoples of the Andean highlands for thousands of years. And in recent years they have gained some popularity in Peruvian cuisine. It is a fairly versatile food and an outstanding protein source.
- GROWING REGIONS: The Olluco is cultivated in the mountains of the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes. It is native to the Altiplano and there are also crops in Colombia and Ecuador.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: The Olluco can grow to a height of up to about 4200 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: The tuber is an incredible source of fiber, vitamin C, carbohydrates, and a large amount of protein. It is also a complete protein food as it contains all nine essential amino acids. It also has high levels of antioxidants and betacyanins.
- BENEFITS: Its betacyanin content can help fight cancer and other cardiovascular diseases. While its levels of fiber and carbohydrates help natural digestion and satisfy you. And its moderate levels of essential amino acids provide strength and energy.
- RECIPES: Olluco is generally used in soups and stews. It is traditionally sliced and is very popular in salads. It is also often included in pickles and other hot sauces. One of the best-known preparations is the Olluco with Meat.
Quinoa is not the only Peruvian superfood in seed form. Kiwicha, also known as amaranth, is another Peruvian favorite and is very similar to quinoa, but smaller. Some even choose to call it “mini quinoa”. Kiwicha is a vegetable protein rich in amino acids, fiber, vitamin B, phosphorus, and manganese among others. This ancient seed was used for certain ceremonial rituals by the Andean peoples and the ancient Incas. Today, Kiwicha is considered a gluten-free alternative for making bread and other delicacies. This impressive seed grows on a plant native to South America. Kiwicha is sold in the form of seeds and powder. It is used in endless delicious recipes. Some very popular breakfasts are prepared with Kiwicha. You can find it in some Peruvian street food stalls in the morning.
The Kiwicha seed grows into a plant by the name Amaranthus Caudatus. It is a fast-growing plant and is endemic to South America. Both its leaves, stems, and flowers are purple, gold and red. This is one of the most popular and healthy Peruvian superfoods out there to try. This plant is often known as the plant that bleeds love. It is believed to carry this nickname for its bright red appearance, which is largely due to its high content of antioxidants such as betacyanins. These tiny seeds are incredibly nutrient-dense and were cultivated in Peru for over 4000 years.
- GROWING REGIONS: Kiwicha grows in any of the three regions of Peru. It grows on the coast, the Peruvian Andes, and the Amazon. The main producers of Kiwicha are Cusco, Cajamarca, Ayacucho and Junín among others.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: Kiwicha can grow both from sea level and 3500 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: This seed has high levels of calcium, dietary fiber, and even vitamins B9 and B6. It has a content of phosphorus, zinc, potassium, iron, and even Vitamin E.
- BENEFITS: Kiwicha can greatly help digestive and cardiovascular health. Its bioactive properties also help reduce triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Contributes to healthy bone and muscle development. In addition, it promotes mental development in the little ones.
- RECIPES: Kiwicha can be found in the form of powder, flakes, and even whole. This superfood can be added to a wide variety of recipes and dishes. You can include it in your soups, cereals, bread, and other baked goods. It can also be used for breading or sprinkling in salads.
The favorite food of many vegans and vegetarians due to its high protein content. As with other Peruvian superfoods, the Tarwi is a plant that grows in Andean lands. This plant has an edible seed very similar in appearance to a bean. Rich in protein and fiber, the nutritious Tarwi legume is another of Peru’s best-kept secrets. Tarwi is a bitter bean that requires constant rinsing to remove certain alkaloids before being used in different traditional Peruvian foods. It is rich in omega fats, minerals, and has high levels of healthy fiber. Tarwi is used in a great variety of traditional dishes belonging to the Andean culture.
The Tarwi is known by the scientific name of Lupinus Mutabilis. While in other Andean regions it is also known as “Chocho”. Tarwi was cultivated long before the Incas. Between the years 500 to 100 BC, seeds were found in graves belonging to the Nazca culture. This legume is also represented in Tiahuanaco ceramics dating from 500 to 100 BC. This plant food is considered a complete food for its large amount of proteins and healthy fats. Both in colonial and republican times the tarwi lost much of its consumption. But despite that, many communities maintained the genetics of these wonderful crops to this day. Being able to enjoy Tarwi is a journey back in time.
- GROWING REGIONS: Tarwi is produced in the Peruvian mountains. You can see crops in regions such as Ancash, Cajamarca, Cusco, Junín, Huánuco, and Puno. You can also see crops in the Andean regions of Bolivia and Ecuador.
- OPTIMUM ELEVATION: The Tarwi grows in places with low rainfall. Especially in regions with altitudes between 2000 and 3800 meters above sea level.
- NUTRIENTS: Tarwi has high levels of protein, especially lysine, an essential amino acid. It also has omega 6 fatty acids and a little omega 3. It even has important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc, as well as vitamins of the B complex.
- BENEFITS: This Peruvian food is known to help fight certain types of cancer. It even contributes to cardiovascular problems and diabetes. It is a food that helps improve digestion, develop and improve muscle function and can contribute to weight loss.
- RECIPES: Tarwi is traditionally served in stews, soups, salads, or also with Peruvian corn. It is one of the Peruvian superfoods that you cannot ignore. We recommend trying Tarwi with Meatballs.
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT LESS, YOU JUST HAVE TO EAT RIGHT.”
As you can see, Peru is home to a wide variety of superfoods, many of them native to and originating in the country. It cannot be denied that the great cuisine characteristic of Peru is linked to a large number of healthy ingredients. We hope together with the experts from Machu Travel Peru to have clarified some of the most important Peruvian superfoods. This is just a glimpse of everything you can find in Peru. You can try each of these foods on your next trip to the Andean country. If you want to know about Peruvian gastronomy, you can consult for free with our qualified advisers.