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K~vicha A staple grain of the Incas, Aztecs, and other pre-Columbian peoples, amaranth was once almost as widely dispersed throughout the Americas as corn. ~ The most important Andean species is Amaranthus caudatus. In Quechua, the ancient Inca language that is still spoken in the Andes, it is called "kiwicha" (pronounced kee-wee-cha).2 Kiwicha is one of the prettiest crops on earth; the beautiful colors of its broad leaves, stems, and flowers purple, red, gold create fiery fields that blaze across the mountainsides. The plant grows vigorously, tolerates drought, heat, and pests, and adapts readily to new environ- ments, including some that are inhospitable to conventional grain crops. Nonetheless, it is little known outside the highland regions of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina. Kiwicha's grains are scarcely bigger than poppy seeds. However, they occur in huge numbers sometimes more than 100,000 to a plant. Like other amaranth grains, they are flavorful and, when heated, they pop to produce a crunchy white product that tastes like a nutty popcorn. Light and crisp, it is delicious as a snack, as a cold cereal with milk and honey, as a "breading" on chicken or fish, or in sweets with a whisper of honey.3 The grain is also ground into flour, rolled into flakes, "puffed," or boiled for porridge. Because of its high nutritional value, it is considered especially good for children, invalids, and the elderly. These seeds are one of the most nutritious foods grown. Not only are they richer in protein than the major cereals, but the amino acid balance of their protein comes closer to nutritional perfection for the human diet than that in normal cereal grains. Five hundred years ago kiwicha helped feed the Incas. After the conquest it was nearly forgotten, like so many other ancient Andean ' For more information on amaranth in general, see our companion report: Amaranth: Modern Prospects for an Ancient Crop. 2 In this chapter, we use "kiwicha" to refer specifically to Amaranthus caudatus. 3 Prepared this way, amaranth is a favorite confection in Mexico, where it is called "alegr~a," which means "happiness." In northern India, a similar product called "ladoos" is popular. 139
LOST CROPS OF THE INCAS Cuzco, Peru. In the Peruvian Andes kiwicha is returning to farmers' fields after being absent since the time of the Incas. In some places (for example, Limatambo), farmers have switched to kiwicha because its resistance to drought and pests makes it more profitable than the crops grown previously. Every market in the Cuzco area now carries the tasty and nutritious grain. (N. Vietmeyer) crops. Now kiwicha (as well as other amaranths) is undergoing a renaissance, and in the last few years this ancient grain is returning to compete with modern crops (see page 1251. In other parts of the world, amaranths have caught the imagination of farmers as well. About 500 hectares of amaranth (Mexican species) were grown in the United States in 1987 and the harvest was sold to bakeries and food markets. Indeed, cookies and breakfast foods made of amaranth are already in health food stores and some supermarkets from New York to San Francisco. Given research, kiwicha might also find a place in world agriculture, although so far it has not performed as well in the northern hemisphere as the Mexican species. PROSPECTS Andean Region. As an indigenous crop, kiwicha is well adapted to the Andes. Given more attention, it can play an increasing role in Andean nutrition. Already the present small program in Peru has had notable effects; products made from kiwicha are appearing in open
KIWICHA 141 markets and supermarkets, and their nutritional punch has become known to millions. As kiwicha and other grain amaranth species become more popular worldwide, consumption will probably also increase among all levels of South American society. This, in turn, will boost kiwicha's attrac- tiveness as a cash crop, and should also encourage even more sustained long-term research. The crop could then be reestablished in many places throughout the region after an absence of almost 500 years. Eventually, it could become a vital nutritional complement to the diets and incomes of millions of traditional farmers, as well as to the rural and urban poor. Kiwicha requires less processing than many Andean crops -beans, quinoa, and tarwi, for example which is particularly important where fuel is limited or expensive. Other Developing Areas. Various amaranth species are used as grains, greens, fodders, or ornamentals around the world. This is especially true in the lower elevations of the Himalayas, where they are well established in the nonirrigated croplands. So far, kiwicha amaranth is barely known outside the Andes, but the work done in Peru and nearby countries could be extended to other regions. During the past five years there has been a marked increase in the research and production of amaranth. Substantial plantings are reported in China, Nepal, India, Kenya, and Mexico, where amaranth often occupies the rainfed croplands. The work done in the Andean countries could benefit the expansion of kiwicha amaranth in these countries. Amaranth can undoubtedly be used to raise the nutritional quality of foods that are normally made from other grains such as corn, rice, or sorghum. In such blends, its food value is particularly beneficial for infants, children, and pregnant and lactating women. Nutritionists have compared amaranth favorably with milk. By introducing amaranth into diets based on cereals and tubers, a much-improved nutritional balance is obtained. In sum, kiwicha could become an important source of protein, vitamins, and minerals in many areas, particularly in tropical highlands. Industrialized Regions. Amaranth is becoming an established specialty crop in the United States. Only Mexican varieties have been used so far because kiwicha types have performed poorly. However, selection of genotypes that set seeds under long daylength conditions seems likely to uncover better adapted forms. A killing frost is required to dry down the plants sufficiently to permit direct combine harvest. Amaranth is of particular interest to farmers growing dryland crops in areas of the Great Plains. The falling aquifers and increasing water
142 LOST CROPS OF THE INCAS costs make it an attractive alternative to crops with a high water requirement. Interest in amaranth (Mexican types) has spread to New Zealand and a few other such nations in what appears to be the beginning of a wider acceptance of kiwicha and its sister species. USES The meal or flour from kiwicha grain is especially suitable for unleavened breads, where it can be used as the sole or predominant ingredient. The flour of other amaranths is used in Latin America and in the Himalayas to produce a variety of flatbreads such as tortillas and chapatis. For making yeast-raised breads or other leavened foods, kiwicha meal or flour must be blended with wheat meal or wheat flour because it lacks functional gluten. Blends of 80 percent wheat and 20 percent kiwicha give normal leavening to breads, and the high lysine content of the kiwicha greatly improves the nutritional quality over that of breads made with wheat flour alone. In the form of whole grain, flour, toasted grain, popped grain, flakes or sprouted-grain flour- kiwicha can be used in many other foods, including soups; pancakes; breakfast cereals; porridges; breads, rolls, muffins, and similar baked foods; and salads. Kiwicha may have great promise as a vegetable crop as well. In much of the world, young leaves and stems of several other amaranth species are boiled as greens. Although they are virtually unlisted in agricultural statistics, the various amaranths may actually be the most widely grown vegetable crop in the humid tropics. From the red varieties of kiwicha is obtained a food coloring (called betalaina) that is nontoxic. It is slowly degraded by light, but none- theless has promise because synthetic red dyes are suspected of being health hazards. Simple methods for extracting the brilliant red coloring have been developed in Peru.4 After the grain is threshed, the kiwicha residue (stover) can be used as a source of fodder for cattle. Research in Peru has demonstrated that it is much better in nutritional value than the residue of other Andean crops. Andean farmers traditionally maintain their livestock on crop residue during the dry season, when forage is limited. Kiwicha also has potential as a forage crop. It can rapidly produce a large amount of biomass with a high protein content, especially in the tropics where many high-protein forages yield poorly. 4 Information from L. Sumar.
KIWICHA NUTRITION 143 Kiwicha produces mild-tasting, cereal-like seeds that have protein contents of 13-18 percent, compared to about 10 percent in corn and other major cereal foods. Moreover, the seeds have high levels of lysine, a nutritionally essential amino acid that is usually deficient in plant protein. For instance, they have nearly twice the level of lysine found in wheat protein. Popping and flaking seem to have no major effect on protein digestibility or utilization; however, heat may damage the protein unless care is taken.5 Amaranth grain is also high in calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, and vitamin B-complex. Its fiber, especially compared with the fiber in wheat and other grains, is very soft and fine. It is not necessary to separate it from the flour; indeed it may be a benefit to human health. The starch grains vary in diameter from 1 to 3.5 microns, comparable to those in quinoa starch, and much smaller than those in wheat starch or cornstarch. Their tiny size gives them possible uses in industry. They are, for example, small enough to be fired through the nozzles of aerosol cans, and may therefore be suitable substitutes for talc, which is under investigation as a possible health hazard. AGRONOMY Kiwicha and other amaranths adapt to many environments and tolerate adversity because they convert the raw materials of soil, sunlight, and water into plant tissues by using an especially efficient type of photosynthesis. Known technically as the C4 carbon-fixation pathway, this process is particularly efficient at high temperature, in bright sunlight, and under dry conditions. Plants using it tend to require less water than those that use the more common C3 carbon-fixation pathway. The crop is easy to establish. The seed is either broadcast into the field or sown in rows.6 Mechanical planters, such as those used to plant wheat, can be adapted to plant the tiny seed. The seeds may germinate in as little as three days, but the seedlings are slow starters and are easily overwhelmed by weeds.7 Once established, however, they grow quickly and their maintenance is relatively easy. 5 Pedersen et al., 1987a. 6 A simple planter, devised in Peru, consists of a disposable plastic coffee cup fitted on the bottom of a short piece of plastic pipe. The pipe is filled with seed, and a nail hole in the bottom of the cup allows the seed to dribble out as the farmer walks along. 7 Because they are C4 plants, atrazine-type herbicides show promise.
144 HARVESTING AND HANDLING LOST CROPS OF THE INCAS Most types mature in 4-6 months. However, in some highland regions they may take as long as 10 months. Yields of 1,000-3,000 kg of seed per hectare are not uncommon; up to 6,000 kg per hectare has been achieved in research plots. In 1987, a Peruvian farmer (using improved varieties and traditional farming methods) obtained a harvest of 5,000 kg per hectare in a 6-hectare farm field.8 Most traditional kiwicha varieties are harvested just before maturity. This is because the seeds are not held tightly in the seedhead, and they will scatter on the ground when the seedheads dry out. Researchers in the Andes have developed strains with upward-facing seedheads that cradle the seed until harvested (see picture, page 1261. These are suitable for mechanical harvesting. Also, the researchers have had success with making simple modifications to threshers developed for conventional small grains such as wheat and rice.9 LIMITATIONS A few amaranth species are serious weeds, which can cause concern when any amaranth is being introduced to a new area. However, the weedy types are distinctly different from kiwicha, which is not a persistent plant. Kiwicha seems to have daylength sensitivity. As noted, the varieties so far tested in the United States have not grown well, apparently because of daylength incompatibility. Diseases such as damping off and root rot can be very damaging. However, resistance has been found in certain types in Peru. The . . biggest problem has been weeds (kikuyu grass is particularly trouble- some). Hand hoeing has so far been employed, but the use of dense plantings shows promise to suppress most weeds. Also, it has recently been found that rotating the crop with potatoes seems to solve the weed problem. The seeds are similar in size to the chaff and to impurities such as sand. This makes it difficult to winnow the crop to obtain clean seed.'° The small seed size increases the difficulty of establishing a good plant stand. Small-seeded crops require a shallow planting depth; thus the seed zone of the soil is prone to drying out during germination and emergence. ~ Information from L. Sumar. 9 Losses during combine harvesting and threshing amount to only about 5-8 percent, a huge improvement over the 50-percent shattering losses of just a few years ago and approaching the levels acceptable for other commercial grains. 'I A pneumatic winnow has been designed in Peru and is used to remove dust and chaff from the grain. Sand is still difficult to separate. Information from L. Sumar.
KIWICHA 145 Compared with other grains, research on amaranth is quite limited. Additional work on cultural requirements, plant breeding, food tech- nology, and nutrition is needed to determine the potential and to discern the appropriate niche of amaranth in relation to other grains. RESEARCH NEEDS Agronomists have already improved kiwicha by breeding plants of uniform height with sturdy, wind-resistant stalks and high-yielding seedheads that hold onto their seeds until they can be harvested. The interrelated responses to a complex variety of climates, soil conditions, pests, and diseases have also been worked out for several cultivars. Among research yet to be done is the following: · The further collection and evaluation of germplasm to assess the range of genetic diversity. Daylength-neutral types should be sought, especially in the most southern regions of kiwicha's occurrence. · The expansion of adaptability trials to study the effects of envi- ronmental variation on different landraces. One test, for example, is needed to determine if red in the plant's coloration is correlated with frost resistance, as it is in some other crops. · The determination of optimal growing practices under various environmental and cultural conditions. · The improvement of harvesting techniques for increasing grain uniformity and reducing contamination. · The improvement of processing methods, such as those for cleaning and grinding the seeds. · The development of ways to substitute amaranth in popular food products that have poor nutritional quality. · The breaking of the "daylength barrier. " Perhaps crossing kiwicha with other species, such as Amaranthus hypochondriacus or A. cruentus, could expand the range of latitudes where kiwicha can be grown, and maybe even increase the seed size. SPECIES INFORMATION Botanical Name Amaranthus caudatus Linnaeus Family Amaranthaceae . . . Synonyms Amaranthus edulis, Amaranthus mantegazzianus Common Names Quechua: kiwicha, quihuicha, inca jataco; ataco, ataku, sankurachi, jaguarcha (Ecuador), millmi, coimi Aymara: qamasa
146 LOST CROPS OF THE INCAS Spanish: kiwicha, amaranto, trigo inca, achis, achita, chaquilla, sangorache, borlas. ~ ~ Portuguese: amaranto de cauda English: amaranth, love-lies-bleeding, red-hot cattail, bush green, Inca wheat (normally used for quinoa) French: amarante caudee Origin. White-seeded and apparently domesticated kiwicha has been found in Andean tombs more than 4,000 years old. It is not found in the wild, and although until recently it has been a "rustic" crop, it is believed that it has long been fully domesticated. Although never as important or imbued with such special attributes as the pre-Columbian Mexican amaranths, kiwicha undoubtedly played an important nutritional role in pre-Conquest Andean society, partic- ularly in the region of the Incan and Aymaran homelands in southern Peru and Bolivia. Description. Kiwicha is an annual, broad-leaved dicotyledon. Its central stem can reach 2-2.5 m at maturity, although most varieties are shorter. Usually, leaves and side branches form on the central stalk (depending on the density of plants in an area). These may start as low as the base of the plant (depending on variety), which, in general, is shaped like an irregular cylinder.'2 The taproot is short and enlarged, with secondary roots penetrating downwards into the deeper soil. The often spectacular flowers and seed are in panicles that arise from lateral buds and especially from the main stem. In some types the inflorescences can be 90 cm long, and often look like a long, red cat's tail. They can be erect, semi-erect, or lax. Each panicle has male and female Howers and is self-pollinating (the flowers can also be wind pollinated). The fruits (pyxidia) each contain a single seed. The seeds are seldom larger than 1 mm in diameter but occur in massive numbers. Color ranges from black through red to the more common ivory or white. The seed covering is shiny, and the embryo is curved around the small endosperm (perisperm), much as in quinoa. Unlike quinoa, however, amaranth seeds contain no bitter saponins. The chromosome~number is usually n=32 and occasionally n=34. " The names "bledo" and "bledos" ("wild amaranth" in Castilian) are also used. The plant has also been confusingly called "quinua," "quinua de Castilla" (Ecuador), and "quinua del valle" because of the superficial similarity to quinoa. |2 These side branches are prone to breaking away from the plant (lodging), and harvesting heads of grain low on the plant is also more difficult. A major goal of selection has been a plant with its seed concentrated at the top of the central stem (see page 126).
KIWICHA 147 Polyploidy has been induced, but results in only minor morphological changes. Horticultural Varieties. Numerous landraces have been found in the Andes, generally distinguished by panicle form and the color of stem, leaves, fruit, and seed. True varieties have been selected in Peru. These include, in particular, "Noel Vietmeyer" and "Alan Garcia." The first is tall; "rustic"; resistant to mycoplasms, sclerotinia, and alternaria; and yields 3~3.5 tons per hectare. Its seed is translucent and makes good flour and flakes. The second is short and susceptible to diseases, but yields 3-5 tons per hectare under good conditions. Over 1,200 accessions are being maintained in the Andean region, with many duplicates in other areas. Environmental Requirements Daylength. Most kiwicha varieties are short-day. Cultivars exist, however, that Dower at daylengths ranging from 12 to 16 hours. Rainfall. Grain amaranths have set seed in areas receiving as little as 200 mm. Some estimates place their moisture requirements at about equivalent to those of sorghum, or about half those of corn. Although kiwicha will tolerate dry periods after the plant has become established, reasonable moisture levels are critical for proper germination. Also, some moisture is needed during pollination. Altitude. Kiwicha appears to be the only grain-amaranth species to thrive above 2,500 m. In the Andes, most is grown between 1,500 and 3,600 m. Commercial varieties are being successfully cultivated at sea level near Lima, Peru. Low Temperature. Although more cold tolerant than most grains, it cannot tolerate frost. Some "cold-tolerant red lines" have been found that can stand temperatures of 4°C.~3 High Temperature. 35-40°C. The plant grows best at 21-28°C. Soil Type. Kiwicha grows well on soils containing widely varying levels of nutrients, although it does best in loose, sandy soils with high humus content. Genotypes that tolerate alkaline soils with pH as high as 8.5 have been discovered. In addition, some with an apparent ability to withstand mild salinity have been identified.~4 Other Amaranthus species are renowned for their tolerance to acid soils and aluminum toxicity; kiwicha probably is similar. |3 Information from L. Sumar. |4 In trials, kiwicha has grown well at salinity levels up to 8 mmhos per cm, a level that most conventional cereals cannot withstand. Information from L. Sumar.