Saturday, February 20, 2010

What Were Neas and Sheum?

When Zeniff and his people returned to reclaim the City of Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah 9:3), they planted corn, wheat, barley, neas and sheum (Mosiah 9:9). Book of Mormon scholars have for years tried to determine what these two crops were, obviously unknown to Joseph Smith in 1830. Zeniff groups the seeds his people planted into two categories: 1) grains, and 2) fruits (Mosiah 9:9). This probably suggests that neas and sheum were some type of grain, since they are grouped with corn, wheat and barley. And interestingly enough, there are two previously unknown crops found recently in the Andes called Quinoa and Kawicha while there are no unknown crops in Mesoamerican.

These two grains found in Peru and Ecuador, are indigenous to the region and have been cultivated there for more than 4,000 years, and today are considered nutritionally as supergrains. Quinoa has excellent reserves of protein, and unlike other grains, is not missing the amino acid lysine, so the protein is more complete (a trait it shares with other "non-true" grains such as buckwheat and amaranth). 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. The grain is also ground into flour, rolled into flakes, "puffed," or boiled for porridge.

As an example, Quinoa, of all similar grains, is highest in fat, highest in zinc, highest in calcium, and only beans and wheat are higher in potassium, only barley is higher in sodium, only wheat is higher in protein, only barley, oats and rice are higher in raw fiber, and only rye, corn, and barley are higher in carbohydrates. Nutritionally, Quinoa has more protein than milk, and is considered a perfect grain because it can be grown at heights and in temperatures where other grains have great difficulty.

Are these grains the neas and sheum mentioned by Zeniff? It is not known, however, it is interesting that in the Andes there are these and other grains that have a long history dating into BC times, but since the early 16th Century, have long been forgotten. That neas and sheum were unknown crops in Joseph Smith’s day is supported by the fact he used the original names in his translation of the plates, unable to use a common name for them based on the lack of knowledge of his day. It is also interesting that Quinoa and Kiwicha are considered grains of superior nutritional value that, until the last quarter of the 20th Century, were relatively unknown anywhere else in the world outside the Andes.


  1. And the evidence for Peru being the Land of Promise keeps on mounting.

  2. Is the pic shown in your article that of quinoa or kawichi? and which is the most important of the two?

  3. Randy: The picture is of quinoa. Kawichi has much smaller seeds and is more flowerful in appearance. It is hard to say which is the most important, depending on what criteria is used. However, quinoa is the only grain now exported from Peru, though in very small quantities, and shows up in the U.S. mostly in health-type or specialty stores. So far, it is known to have more uses in general, and can be ground into a flour type product that can be used as, or combined with, regular flour for anything from bread to pancakes. The main thing in today's international market is that it is nutritionally valuable to one's diet. If Peru ever gets around to really taking advantage of this marvelous product, it would be very beneficial for their own people, plus be a money producer on the world export market. So far, though, Peruvians seem not to understand how valuable a product they have.