Looking into the past for dietary wonders of the future.
What is Quinoa? An Autopsy of the “Mother Grain”
Pronounced Keen-Wah, Quinoa has been cultivated for over 5000 years in the lush Andes mountains of South America. This grain like seed was a staple of the Incan diet in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. The Incans coined Quinoa the “mother grain” and broke ground with a golden tipped shovel at the first planting of the season to show their respect for what the plant provided them.
Not only consumed, Quinoa had many other uses. A beverage similar to beer was created from the seeds and the waters that were used to soak the seed were used as a detergent as well as a topical antiseptic.
In the 1980’s Quinoa made its way north of the Equator to the U.S.A. and Canada and has grown in popularity. This delicious, nutty and nutritious seed has become a popular alternative to rice and other grains. From the Chenopodium family, Quinoa comes in many different colors from ivory white to shades of red and black.
Although there are around 120 species in the Chenopodium family only 3 of the species are cultivated for consumption. Although commonly referred to as a grain, Quinoa is technically a seed of the Goosefoot plant which has come to of been known as a member of the “ancient grains”, including amaranth, spelt and kamut.
The Nutritional Wonders of Quinoa
There is an important lesson to be learned from the Incas relationship with Quinoa: not only is this seed a wonderful alternative to rice and other grains but this wondrous food is absolutely flooded with nutritional goodness;
- Rich in calcium
- It’s high in iron, phosphorous, vitamin E and several B vitamins.
- Although the fat content is higher than most grains, clocking in at 6-7%, the protein in Quinoa is unparalleled in the plant kingdom and a strong contender to members of the animal kingdom as well. It’s content ranges from 12-18%. Quinoa rivals the protein content of meat and because it contains abundant levels of all the 8 amino acids our bodies need in an almost perfect balance, Quinoa can be termed a “complete protein”.
- Quinoa is wheat and gluten free and makes a wonderful alternative to people suffering from Celiac disease or wheat allergies.
As it becomes more and more difficult to eat a balanced diet amongst the fast food and the synthetic ingredients in today’s society, it becomes more important to look into our past and assess the eating habits of the people that came before.
The world in which they lived was a stressing environment and the foods that found their way into their bellies were often consumed because of the energy that they provided as well as the accessibility and ease in which to produce them.
This article was originally published at Suite101.com on July 5, 2007 as Quinoa Grain History and Nutrients
Trevor Ellestad is a writer, an herbalist, and an ex-yoga teacher who spends his days creating plant-based magic at Vega. Trevor keeps a tidy home with his partner and their as of yet un-named spider monkey of a kitty cat in Vancouver, BC. At night, Trevor likes to surround himself with plants and obsess over the seemingly simple lives of cats and robots.