Welcome to the World of Pinole, aka pinol or pinolillo, the ancient grain from the Aztec era that is experiencing a resurgence in the food industry today. Made from a blend of purple corn maize (the predecessor to modern corn) and raw cacao, the ingredients are slow roasted together and then ground to form a powder (in yesteryear, they were hand-ground by stone). The powder is then slightly sweetened with cinnamon, vanilla, or unrefined organic sugar and ready for consumption.
Today, pinole powder is often used as a flour substitute in baking recipes or is mixed with water or milk to create a savory bowl of porridge (similar to oatmeal) with a grainy texture.
If you work in the food-and-beverage industry, the surge in little-known pinoli popularity is not entirely surprising. There has been a boon in industry headlines, such as “The Future of Ancient Grains,” and the experts don’t expect their trajectory to slow down anytime soon. So, what is it about pinoli specifically that has caught the attention of restaurant owners and chefs and that is increasingly pleasing the palates of U.S. consumers today?
Pinole Quick Facts
Here is some of what we know about pinole and how your restaurant, catering service, and customers will benefit by adding it to your recipes and dishes.
- It is naturally full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
- It is a rare source of anthocyanins, a special antioxidant that is said to boost cognitive function and reduce rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease
- Historically, it was used as an energy source for endurance athletes, and especially for long-distance runners
- Today, athletes love pinoli as it offers them a slow-burning source of fuel that keeps them going – without the sugar crash
- Hailed as “the new quinoa,” pinole offers multiple health benefits
- Pinoli is a versatile, all-natural, quick-cooking ingredient that can be used in sauces, toppings, salads, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, and more. Its blue and purple varieties also add a splash of color that can liven up any dish — making it easily Instagram-worthy and giving you a global opportunity to post pictures of your creations and boost your biz online
- Did you know that you can use pinole to make a warm drink for a cold winter’s day? One of the very first historical records mentioning pinole came from Spanish observer Bishop Diego de Landa in 1566, who noted: “They [the Aztecs] also toast the maize and then grind and mix it with water into a very refreshing drink, putting into it a little Indian pepper or cacao.” Today, your chefs can mix pinole powder with milk or a non-dairy alternative such as oat milk or soy milk, sprinkle some cinnamon-and-sugar – and voila!
- Pinole’s rise in the U.S. food industry is in large part thanks to Native State Foods (nativestatefoods.com), the company that introduced the ancient grain to the Western world and which now offers an expanding “Purely Pinole” breakfast and snack product line that includes gluten-free Purely Pinole Grab & Go Snack Cups in multiple flavors: Berry Boost, Maqui Berry, Brown Sugar-and-Cinnamon, Coconut, Almond, and Chocolate Mocha.
Food Experts ‘Dish’ on Ancient Grains
From the experts themselves, here are some more ancient grain benefits that should be particularly tantalizing for foodservice pros.
According to HealthFocus International’s Research Manager Cali Amos: “Globally, there is a strong opportunity for ancient grains with half of shoppers interested and nearly 40% saying they use ancient grains at least once a week. And of those shoppers interested, more than 20% are willing to pay a premium for products that include ancient grains.”
GlobalData global consumer surveys indicate that over 51% of U.S. consumers believe that ancient grains have a positive impact on their health.
Mintel reports that since 2010, there has been an explosion of ancient seeds and grain products appearing in grocery stores and on restaurant menus, attributing part of the success to customers looking to connect with the past through their eating choices.
According to Tom Vierhile, GlobalData Innovations Insights Director: “Ancient grains are clearly a mainstream trend now and have been for a few years. Companies like Kellogg Co., Campbell’s, Mondelez International and Del Monte Foods have all placed bets that ancient grains can drive sales growth and recapture consumers who may have defected to natural or organic brands.”
Finally, as noted by Senior Chef Bryan Cozzi of Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute, ancient grains have become the ‘new normal’ on restaurant menus and store shelves. And since consumers are still learning about them, restaurant owners have a golden opportunity to create great-tasting dishes and help their customers discover the unique characteristics and nutritional benefits of each product.
If you work in the field, be sure to cash in on this opportunity to connect with your customers, to foster that all-important customer service relationship, and entice everyone to come back for second helpings!
Traced back to the Aztec era, the word pinole means ‘cornmeal’ and comes from the Nahuatl word pinolli. After enjoying the grain as their primary food source for hundreds of years, the Aztecs eventually shared their secrets with Spanish settlers in the 1500’s. Gradually, it began to make its way around the world.
Pinole’s claim to fame in the Western world came about with the publication of the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which highlights the lives of the Tarahumara Indians of North-Western Mexico, who called themselves the Rarámuri. The Rarámuri were nomads whose settlements were dispersed over a wide range of mountainous territory. Using daily runs of 50-200 miles to relay and deliver messages, they developed a tradition of long-distance running and were renowned for their athletic abilities. In fact, Rarámuri means ‘runners on foot,’ or ‘those who run fast.’ To fuel their journeys, the native tribe relied upon both chia seeds and pinole.
The Rarámuri still reside in North-Western Mexico today, primarily in the Chiuahua region. Not only has pinole consumption spread throughout America, but it is the official national drink of Nicaragua and Honduras. Once relegated to only being a buzz word in the natural health world, pinole is now appearing in a growing number of grocery stores and on mainstream restaurant menus.
Whether you are fueling up for a run or hungry for some new menu ideas, here are some recommended pinole recipes to keep your energies going.
- 1 cup pinole powder (available on the market as masa harina)
- 2 tbsp. chia seeds
- 1/4 cup chopped dates
- 2/3 cup water
- 3 tbsp. brown rice
- Dash cinnamon
- Optional: Spice things up with some black pepper, ginger, or turmeric; add some cacao to create a chocolate-lover’s delight; top cookies with some peanut butter or jam and pack-to-go)
- Preheat oven to 350ºF
- In a frying pan, toast pinole and chia seeds on medium-high for 5-8 minutes or until golden
- Combine with remaining ingredients
- In a food processer, blend until smooth and there are no date chunks (you should be left with a thick paste)
- If dough is too crumbly, add some water
- On a non-stick tray, form round cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the outside forms a solid crust
- Remove from oven and cool
Start with making the drink-mix base by combining:
- 1 cup finely ground pinole powder (masa harina)
- 2 tbsp. chia seeds
There are endless possibilities for creating the taste and consistency you desire. Here are some ingredients you can add and experiment with:
- 1-2 tbsp. honey or maple syrup (dissolve in warm water before adding to dry mixture)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Dash of cloves
- Bon Appétit!