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What is quinoa?

What is quinoa? It’s just the best thing since soybeans; a dietary super food championed by world-renowned nutritionist Gwyneth Paltrow and women’s magazines everywhere.

Not so long ago “keen-wah”, as it’s pronounced, was just an obscure Peruvian seed derived from a species of goosefoot plant. Now, it’s the latest and greatest health food trend to hit the headlines, a veritable culinary phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm.

Where does quinoa come from?

You could be forgiven for never having heard of quinoa. It seems even Microsoft Word thinks it’s a spelling mistake. Its suggestions? Quintal, quanta, equinox, quota or quoin.

Truth is, quinoa is nothing new – it’s been around for thousands of years. The ancient Incas cultivated it in the Andes region of South America and fed it to their warriors to increase their stamina in battle because of its high protein content.

Since then, vegans and vegetarians have embraced the foodstuff, which you can cook like rice, because of its nutritional qualities (more on that soon) – but it’s really taken off in recent years since US celebrities and high-profile nutritionists starting touting its many virtues.

The health benefits of quinoa

Dubious celebrity endorsements aside, quinoa’s credentials as a nutritional super food are undeniable. It’s rich in iron, magnesium and lysine, and contains not one but all nine essential amino acids.

Meanwhile, it contains nearly twice as much fibre as most other grains, which means that eating quinoa can help lower cholesterol and glucose levels, reduce blood pressure and even help you lose weight because it makes you feel fuller for longer.

All this makes quinoa an ideal food for vegetarians and vegans in particular, who tend to eat less protein in their diets – and it’s even gluten free. So what’s not to love about quinoa?

The cost of quinoa

Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for the world’s relatively new-found love affair with this amazing super food – and it’s not just what we fork out to buy it in a supermarket or restaurant.

Long a staple food for villages in Peru and Bolivia, poor farmers are suddenly finding the food stuff to be too expensive, its price tripling since 2006 to match the growing demand for it in the rest of the world. Even farmers are no longer eating the quinoa they harvest because it’s worth more to them if they export it.

It seems the “miracle grain” mightn’t be so miraculous after all. Read more about the plight of Bolivia and Peruvian quinoa farmers here.

Do you love quinoa? You might also enjoy reading about the caveman diet.

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Comments (1 comments)

  • patrickisready

    Oh yes, I haven't had quinoa for along time. It's good stuff ?

    7:43AM, 29th Jun 2013

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