In Nariño Department, in southern Colombia, the old variety of maize known as canguil (which means "fog" or "very thin mist" in the Quechua language) is grown at an altitude of 2,500-3,000 meters. This maize has a growth cycle that lasts a whole year and has small grains. Its most common culinary use is to make popcorn.
At one time, in southern Colombia yellow, white and red canguil maize could be found, with grains that could be round or very pointed. Commercial variants of yellow canguil have the advantage that, when making popcorn, all the kernels pop, thus limiting waste. With native varieties, however, a percentage of kernels often do not pop when cooked and this means some of the product is lost. Moreover, these old varieties have better nutritional properties and greater resistance to adverse weather conditions, insect infestation and disease.
Popcorn is highly nutritious: it contains fiber, carbohydrate, protein, minerals and trace elements such as iron and fluoride. It is rich in B, C, and E vitamins. Making popcorn is very simple: put half a cup of corn kernels in a covered pan with half a tablespoon of oil, and place over the heat. When the kernels start to pop, remove the lid and, once cooking has finished, add salt. Canguil maize is an ancient variety that has been known to and prized by the Pasto and Quillasinga farming and indigenous communities of southern Colombia.
Nowadays the seeds are only found in small quantities, they are not found in markets and they are grown solely for family consumption. The risk of extinction faced by this cereal – and many native varieties of maize – is linked to increasing imports of foreign varieties, like Canadian maize, which are cheaper and pop more uniformly when making popcorn, whereas, as mentioned above, this not the case with canguil and some of the grains are wasted.