Quinoa - the Andean superfood

24 Oct 2013 09.58 am by Renny Wijeyamohan

It took me a while to work out how to pronounce Quinoa. This was a few years back when the Andean super grain (well it’s not technically a grain but we’ll come back to that later) was hitting the shelves of mainstream health food stores in Australia. I started with something like kwi-noah, then graduated to ki-no-wah, before I finally got there: keen-wah. Keenwah. Everybody repeat after me: Keen-wah.


If you’re into sustainability, nutrition and wellbeing learning how to say the word Quinoa is important – especially in 2013, which the UN has dubbed the “International Year of Quinoa”. Mispronouncing it, like I did, is sure to land you in hot water at your local food coop or ruin your cred at your favourite yoga studio. But more to the point, if you’re not saying it right it probably means that you’re not using this potent and versatile food in your cooking at home. And if that’s the case, ladies and gentlemen, then you’re missing out.


What is quinoa

Quinoa is most commonly referred to as a grain – mostly because it’s used in the same way we’d use oats, barley, rye or wheat. But it’s actually something called a “pseudo-grain” that’s harvested for its edible and nutritious seeds. Hailing from the Chenopod family, quinoa is actually closest in ancestry to foods like silverbeet, spinach and beets.


Once harvested and threshed, the quinoa seeds are combined with a liquid – usually water, but also milk or stock – and cooked to form the puffy, crunchy and nutritious end product you’ve probably seen progressive types consuming at a trendy café. Because quinoa can be seasoned and flavoured during the cooking process, alongside its natural nutty flavour, it can take the place of cereal, bread, pasta or rice apart from being a standalone meal itself. This versatility, I’ve found, means it’s not a challenge to integrate into your diet.


Where is quinoa from?

Quinoa originates from high in the Andes – the expansive mountain range that reaches all the way down the West coast of South America. Here, quinoa seeds grow on brightly coloured plants that give the Andean mountainside where they’re harvested a hand painted glow. Kind of like an Incan shaman has smeared daubs of red, purple, black, orange and pink paint across patches of the elevated countryside in an ancient ritual.


Quinoa is steeped in tradition, and has been harvested for between 3000 to 4000 years in the region. The seeds are primarily grown and exported by Peru and Bolivia. It’s big business, with an estimated $87 million dollar turnover. And with a boom in demand for the product coupled with a limited range of cultivation, if you’ve ever raised your eye at the price of quinoa at your local grocery store or organic supermarket, now you know why.


Why is quinoa good for me?

When I was trekking in Peru I recall an energetic local guide who swore by quinoa and explained that it gave you “power”. I’m pretty sure this meant for the day of hiking ahead, but amidst the timeless beauty of the Peruvian altitude, I couldn’t help but interpret it in a more mystical way.


Simply put quinoa is the most complete standalone food source you can find. Philip White a food researcher wrote in 1955, “While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom.” This is because quinoa is high in protein – something totally absent from other grains – is comparatively low in carbohydrates, contains essential fats and fatty acids and is replete with the amino acids lysine and isoleucine which means that the protein that quinoa provides is a complete source.


So… Next time you think about eating cereal, boiling pasta, toasting bread or loading up your rice cooker – take a culinary trip to the Andes and give quinoa a go, in every situation it’s guaranteed to come out on top as the healthiest alternative.



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