Quinoa – that’s ˈkiːnwɑː
From an unknown to a superstar with a Facebook page – no, not a musician, not a sports wonder-kid, just a humble grain that’s delicious … and good for you.
For the last 15 years, this Andean grain, cultivated for seven millennia, has steadily risen in status as a nutrient-dense, low-fat, environmentally friendly, nutty-flavoured food. Quinoa can be eaten as a cereal, prepared like rice or couscous, or ground and baked into bread. And it’s a complete protein, rich in minerals, vitamins and fatty acids, making it a valuable food, especially for vegetarians.
Quinoa was passed over by Spanish colonists in favour of wheat, barley, maize and potatoes. As a result, until recently, it was only cultivated by small farmers in the high Andes. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, however, declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa, saying that it could play “an important role in eradicating hunger, malnutrition and poverty”. The designation honoured the indigenous people of the Andes for their role in protecting quinoa and championed the sustainable development of the crop around the world.
But as the popularity of quinoa soared, a controversy emerged: the farmers who grew it could no longer afford to eat it, and were turning to less-nutritious and cheaper foods. And in response to global demand, other farmers began cultivating quinoa rather than grazing llamas, pushing the traditional agricultural practice out of balance and depleting the soils, as there was no longer enough llama manure to use as fertilizer for the crop.
The hope now is that international cultivation of quinoa will take the pressure off its traditional cultivators, allowing them to continue to profit, but also making good use of the plant in alleviating food insecurity around the world. Thanks to quinoa’s ability to thrive in a wide variety of conditions, it is now being grown beyond the Andes – in Canada, Denmark, England, France, the Himalayas, India, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, Sweden and the USA.
Want to try?
As quinoa has travelled around the globe, people have experimented and incorporated it into all sorts of dishes. Here are a few to try.
Simply rinse the quinoa and boil it, in a ratio of about 2:1 water to quinoa, for around 20 minutes; when a little tail pops out of each grain, it’s done. Fluff it up, let it cool, and add chopped cucumber, onion, tomato, parsley, mint, olive oil and lemon juice.
Pop the grains in a hot dry pan, much as you would with popcorn, only without oil. The result is tiny crunchy bits that can be eaten as a snack.
Cooked quinoa can be incorporated into your traditional pancake recipe for added texture and nutrition. Try one cup of cooked quinoa to 225 grams of flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, an egg plus an egg white, a tablespoon of melted butter and 300 millilitres of milk. Mix the wet ingredients together first, then the quinoa with the flour, baking powder and a couple of pinches of salt. Then cook like a normal pancake.
Simply sauté chopped onion and garlic for a few minutes in olive oil, then add a cup of quinoa and stir until it is slightly browned. Pour in 2 cups of stock or water, and bring to a boil, then simmer with a lid on for about 15 minutes till the grains are tender and have absorbed all the liquid. You can add vegetables to the pilaf – but it’s lovely on its own.