In South America, quinoa has been cultivated as a dietary staple for 6,000 years and is slowly, very slowly making its way to Europe. You can buy it at a number of health food stores, but you have to know about it to find it, partly because quinoa is having mild identity issues. It has all kinds of names in different languages; on top of that it’s a pseudo grain. Based on external appearance you would never guess that it belongs to the amaranth family and is more closely related to red beet and spinach than to wheat and friends.
Grain or no grain, quinoa is power-packed. At the high altitudes of the Andes, where very few plants survive, much less thrive, the quinoa plant has braved the wind and weather, providing generations of Incas and Aztecs with carbohydrates, minerals and plenty of protein. The Spanish conquistadors, too, were quick to discover the merits of quinoa. They deemed it “unchristian,” forbade it and as a result successfully weakened the indigenous peoples.
Because everything becomes a thing these days, the U.N. Secretary-General declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa. Quinoa is gluten-free, requires very little watering and is capable of preventing world hunger in periods of climate-related drought. In many countries, Kenya, India, China and Morocco, to name a few, attempts are being made to cultivate the nutritious little kernels. Regarded as an excellent alternative source of protein, it also has medicinal benefits. Its abundance of minerals protects the body from harmful substances and oxidation processes – more specifically, the aging of tissue – prevents cancer and is helpful against migraines.
Quinoa is prepared similar to rice: two parts water to one part grain. Served cold like a rice salad, its nutty taste is a dream with sheep’s cheese, avocado and dried fruit.Text: Sarah Golbaz, Image: wikimedia