Chocho is one name for the native Peruvian plant Tarwi. Also known as the Andean Lupin, this plant flowers into remarkably stunning blue and purple flowers, making the whole crop look like a sea of indigo fire. Its popularity comes mainly from its nutrient-rich seed which is considered a staple of the Andean diet. The Chocho plant grows at high altitudes in a relatively cool climate, can withstand great levels of drought, and when mature it is frost resistant. These factors make the high valleys of the Andes a perfect location for Chochos to thrive. Around the world, most people have never heard of Chocho yet this small, powerful legume has been eaten for over 1,500 years.
There is one specific reason why the Chocho has kept a low profile and not become immensely popular around the world like potatoes and quinoa have; its bitter taste which comes from toxic alkaloids. When eaten, one would experience side effects like nausea, weakness, and issues with vision, enough to make you very uncomfortable. However – alkaloids are water soluble and thus with proper preparation Chochos can be free of their bitter, toxic compounds and become a tasty and nutritious bean. To achieve this they must be soaked in water and rinsed daily for several days, that’s it. Another method for removing the toxicity is to put a bag of Chochos in a running stream for a week so that the alkaloids can be washed away gradually. After the soaking and rinsing, the last step is to bring to a vigorous boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
The creamy white colored bean has a smooth, nutty flavor with a texture similar to a cooked soybean. Just like most legumes, it can be used in many different ways. In Peru it is popular in soups, salads, sauces, made into burgers, and most popularly as a vegetarian ceviche – where the cooked beans are mixed with lime, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, salt, chili, and topped with toasted corn called cancha. Try this ceviche recipe yourself.
Chochos are extremely nutritious, said to contain more nutrition than any other bean. They consist of over 40% protein and contain essential fatty acids, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and enough oil to be pressed and used for cooking oil. Chochos are also planted because of the high amount of nitrogen the plant puts into the soil, making them an even more desirable crop to have.
With the perfect conditions to easily grow in the Peruvian Andes, Chochos always have been and will be an important part of the Andean culture. Come visit Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca and try a local Chocho Ceviche from one of the various street stalls, or better yet, stay with us at The Lazy Dog Inn and take a walk out the front gate to find rolling crops of brilliant Tarwi dazzling the landscape.