The first thing to know about quinoa, superfood of the ancient Incas, is how to pronounce it.
That’s “keen-wah”, ladies and gentlemen. You can thank me later.
The next thing to know is that it could be one of the world’s most important foods.
It’s as if you took the best parts of wheat, rice, oats and other cereal grains and put them into one package. Quinoa is gluten-free and loaded with fibre, complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, iron and as much protein as milk.
The ancient peoples of the Andes Mountains were grinding its beige-coloured seeds into a flour or boiling it into a porridge as far back as 4000 years, but it fell out of modern fashion somewhat thanks to Spanish colonists who replaced it with wheat and other Euro-centric crops. But in the past 10 years, the Andean superfood has emerged on the global health food scene.
Quinoa can save your diet
Firstly, quinoa is not necessarily more nutritious than, say, whole wheat, corn or oats, all of which have higher amounts of protein and fibre per 100 grams.
However, those grains also have more carbohydrates, which is often the first thing to go in most modern diets. Unused carbohydrates are eventually stored as fat, so these diets instead emphasise fibre, protein, unsaturated fats and micronutrients.
Quinoa is rich in all of those, but still low carbs. There’s more to it than that, though. It’s easier to prepare than whole wheat, more versatile in cooking than oats and can add substance and texture to dishes in a similar way to rice or pasta (neither of which are very nutritious).
Part of the secret is that quinoa isn’t even technically a grain. Botanically speaking, the plant that produces the edible seeds is related to spinach. This gives it certain advantages that may not be apparent on the supermarket shelf, namely…
Quinoa can save the world
Global organisations that fight world hunger are excited about quinoa.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa” after reporting that “it has great potential to improving the living conditions of people in the Andean and the modern world”.
The price of quinoa tripled between 2006 and 2013 but research in Peru, where most of the world’s quinoa is still grown, showed that the rising price of the crop was a boon to local populations, and the high value of the crop didn’t even stop them from eating it themselves.
But the best part of quinoa isn’t its economics, but its nutrition. The difficulty with many of the world’s top staple crops like maize and rice is that while they’re cheap and easy to grow, they don’t offer much in the way of nutrition other than raw energy. In fact, for decades, scientists have been working to develop genetically-modified strains of rice high in vitamins and protein.
For the global poor, quinoa serves the same purpose as rice, beans or maze while providing a nutritional boon.
According to the UNFAO: “[I]t is comparable in energy to similarly eaten foods … In addition, quinoa is notable as a good source of quality protein, dietary fibre, polyunsaturated fats and minerals.”
So, do your body and humanity in general a favour
Next time you need to stock up on rice, buy a bag of quinoa instead. Here are some great quinoa recipes from around the web: