Although there are still many who may not have heard, (or have yet to try), this incredible seed/ grain, quinoa (keen-wah) is so extraordinary, that the UN declared 2013 "International Year of Quinoa"! Who knew, right?
Quinoa also happens to be "the grain of the month" for March, (according to the Whole Grains Council!) Wow!!
This also stems from the fact that a lot of the quinoa produced is grown in the Andes Mountains, (South America), and late March happens to be harvest season for quinoa, and is much celebrated by the farmers in the region.
The chisaya mama, or "mother of all grains", is what the ancient Incas called this food. According to legends, it was the Incan emperor who, (in a very religious ceremony), would sow the very first seeds of the season with a special gold implement. Quinoa almost became near extinct after the 1500's- due to the invasion of the Spaniards/ Europeans. Many farmers were forced to labor in the gold mines, and the conquerors decided to burn and destroy much of the quinoa fields. After many centuries, the Incans were forced to halt all cultivation of quinoa, and had to grow other "inferior" crops- such as wheat and potatoes. Luckily, there were some plants that remained at higher altitudes in the mountains, which wasn't rediscovered in modern times by others outside of this region until the 1970's.
The plant has over 120 known varieties, (there were over 250 varieties known 3,000-5,000 years ago!), grows on stalks of 3- 9ft. tall in varying colors, with very large seed heads. Surprisingly, this is one of the only known crops that actually multiply more in dry conditions, and can tolerate most harsher climates!! Because the leaves of the plant resemble a "goose foot", the plant was so named "Chenopodeum quinoa". (See the above graphic for the most common varieties currently found in stores.)
Quinoa is touted as a "superfood", and quite frankly, perhaps the most "complete food" because:
1) It's gluten-free!!
2) One of the only plants that is a "complete protein"- containing a whopping balance of 9-18 amino acids!!
3) High ratio of protein to carbohydrates
4) Contributes to the reduction of risk for diabetes
5) Useful in controlling blood pressure because of it's high content of potassium
6) Good source of fiber- easily digested
7) Contains calcium, iron, thiamin, magnesium, riboflavin, and vitamins: B, C, and E
8) Helps retain warmth & energy of the body
9) There are some studies that suggest the increase in milk production for pregnant women that include quinoa in their diet!
10) Helps promote tissue and muscle growth and contains anti-inflammatory phytonutrients
Need I say more?!!
Quinoa is becoming more readily available in most grocers and markets now. It may be a bit pricier than rice or some of the other grains, but well worth it!! Some of the brands that may be recognizable are "Bob's Red Mill", "Simply Balanced", or "Nature's Earthly Choice". Look in the grains section of your local store! This grain/seed can be used as a cereal or porridge, in puddings, soups, stews, salads, side dishes, baked goods, and even popped like "popcorn"! (Which is how Peruvian children enjoy it!)