For decades, Latinos who live in the states have been told that our foods are “unhealthy.” The wellness industry has demonized carbohydrates and starchy foods, and has played a major role in how our cuisines are perceived in this country. But like many young Latinx folks today, Yahaira Jacquez has taken it upon herself to reclaim the ancestral foods of her heritage. The Mexican American journalist, who grew up eating her grandmother’s oatmeal with pinole in it, recently launched The Pinole Project as an ode to the ancient superfood her family has always enjoyed.
Pinole is an ancient food that’s typically made of dried corn that’s ground into a fine powder. It’s often mixed with ingredients like milk, chia seeds, cacao, agave, or vanilla. It can be used to make anything from cereals, baked goods, or tortillas. But because it naturally creates a creamy porridge-like consistency when mixed with milk, Jacquez’s abuela would often add it to oatmeal.
“I grew up going to my grandparent’s farm in Mexico and spending all my summers there with my cousins. We would help my grandparents out on the farm gathering the eggs and the chickens and because we had to do work on the farm, my grandmother would always make us a big, hearty breakfast,” Jacquez says. “She would make a version of what my pinole chia oatmeal is now. It would have oatmeal, pinole, some cinnamon, and sometimes sweetener. This was always a teaching moment for her and she would educate us on how this ancient ingredient comes from the Tarahumara Indigenous communities of the Sierra Madre mountain region in Mexico. She would tell us how this meal would make us strong.”
About two years ago, Jacquez started to re-introduced pinole into her diet, preparing it in oatmeal, the way her grandmother always did. With pinole receiving much more acknowledgement in the U.S. in recent years, especially among proud Mexican Americans looking to connect back with their food heritage, Jacquez recognized that there was a need and demand for food products that featured pinole. She suddenly felt inspired to recreate her abuela’s recipe for the masses. The Pinole Project, which has a line of three different flavors of pinole chia oatmeal, launched on March 3, 2020. The three variations include the Original, Peanut Butter & Cacao, and Banana Cinnamon.
“Pinole is an ancient food. It goes back to the times of the Aztecs and has been passed down from generation to generation. Everyone in my family eats it and the Tarahumara Indigenous communities in Mexico are the ones that made it famous when they were profiled in a book called Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, who learned that a lot of them would eat pinole before going on their long distance runs,” explains Jacquez, stating that they would have it with milk and mash it with chia seeds. “How we differentiate our recipe from some of the more traditional ones is that we use non-GMO corn that’s harvested on the sustainable farms of Oaxaca, Mexico. One of the things that was really important to us was to get our corn directly from Mexico. We wanted this to be a very authentic product.”
Combined with chia seeds and gluten-free oats, The Pinole Project oatmeals are full of fiber, protein, and gut-friendly prebiotics. While typical oatmeal tends to have 5 to 6 grams of fiber, Jacquez aimed for her meals to hit 10 grams. You can simply add water—though Jacquez highly recommends mixing it with a milk of your choice for a creamier consistency—and pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes (or heat via stovetop) and it’s ready.
“Pinole contains many nutrients such as Vitamin A, B2, C and E because it is a mix of [corn with] cinnamon, cacao, and other spices.”
“Pinole contains many nutrients such as Vitamin A, B2, C and E because it is a mix of [corn with] cinnamon, cacao, and other spices. Pinole has an anthocyanin pigment; with antioxidant effects that are anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and aid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease,” says Dominican American nutritionist Diana Rodriguez. According to Rodriguez, combining pinole, chia, and oatmeal is a recipe for serious nutrition benefits—a rich mix of vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory properties. “A combination of oatmeal with added chia seeds and pinole can serve as a filling meal that can leave you feeling full and energetic. These foods are full of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, which help aid in the prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
While it’s important for Jacquez that consumers enjoy her tasty oatmeals, she also wants folks to learn and understand the rich history, culture, and the family stories behind pinole.
“The biggest influence for starting this was definitely my grandparents. I am so proud of the lives that they lived. My grandmother passed away last year but my grandpa is still here with us and has been able to see this. He had a very close relationship with the Tarahumara people and was a translator for them for a really long time. He was the only one in his pueblo that spoke the language, so he was able to to do interpreting for them at the doctor or at the city hall,” she says. “Looking back at my family, I want people to know about their stories and also the food from my culture. It’s what really influenced me to do this and it’s now the guiding force behind The Pinole Project. We want to invite people to our table so we can have these conversations. It’s much more than just the food—it’s everything around it.”
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