Ancient Inca grain is new health food darling

Grown high in the Andes for millennia, a grain the Incas so prized they deemed it sacred has become a global star and is now being touted as the health food of the future.

Quinoa, a good crop for harsher climes as it prospers in semi-arid conditions and high altitudes where rivals struggle, has nutrition experts salivating as it is chock full of protein and essential amino acids.

"We don't ever get sick, because we eat the quinoa we got from our ancestors," Agustin Flores, a third-generation farmer in Bolivia's southern highlands, told AFP with a touch of salesmanship and a hesitant smile.

"When we are tired, after the working day, we have a drink based on the quinoa grain and that picks us up," said Flores, adding that he and his four sons also consume it in soups and cakes.

Quinoa was originally scorned by Spanish colonizers. At one point its cultivation was banned due to its use in what Spaniards saw as "pagan" ceremonies and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead.

Known as chisaya mama or "mother of all grains", it was so revered by the Incas that the emperor would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season with special tools made out of gold.

But in the past 10-15 years, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) has made major inroads in Western cuisine and is often used as a substitute for pastas, risottos, gratins and taboules.

Ever looking for healthier options, chefs and nutritionists are beginning to take notice of the ancient grain, which has a light, fluffy texture and a mild, slightly nutty flavor.

"With its great nutritional profile quinoa has now become a food of the future," said Epifanio Murana, the head of the Quinoa Producers' Association.

"NASA scientists have called it exceptionally balanced and complete, and highly useful for astronauts' needs," he said.

Ruben Ramiro Miranda, a researcher at the University of Oruro, also sang the praises of the grain which is related to highly nutritional amaranth.

Quinoa can prevent inflammation and hypertension and helps "in the development of neurons, as well as healthy breast milk," he told AFP.

Bolivia, South America's poorest country with around 10 percent arable land, was the world's top producer of quinoa in 2009 with 30,000 tonnes or 46 percent of global supply. Cotimbora, at 3,700 meters (12,100 feet), is the heart of quinoa country.

It is followed by Peru, with 42 percent of production and the United States, with six percent, official Bolivian data shows.

In Bolivia's Cotimbora-Challapata region, progress spawned by the grain's boom is plain to see. Export prices have almost tripled since 2007, now fetching 2,900 dollars a tonne.

"Education is getting better outfitted, nutrition has improved. People live better," said Mario Alanoca, the director general of the producers' group. "But what we worry about is the risk of drought."

No rain in November and December in Bolivia's highlands has left as much as 45 percent of the 2010-2011 crop, due in April-May, in danger, producers say.

"Here there should be some," farmer Flores points in his dusty field. "And there, there also should be some. But there's nothing there. Mostly it's the drought. We lost half of what we planted this year."

It may be a bad year for the crop, to be sure. But the surface area being planted in the grain has surged, a Franco-Bolivian study found. The IRD study also found that more quinoa was being planted on land at risk of freezes, and where animals once grazed, increasing potential land disputes.

Quinoa in its natural state has a coating of bitter-tasting saponins, making it unpalatable prior to processing.

Most quinoa sold commercially in North America has been processed to remove this coating. But this bitterness has beneficial effects during cultivation, as the plant is unpopular with birds and thus requires minimal protection.

jac/mdl/ag/jkb-ns

 

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Middleware Support Analyst

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Senior Java Developer/Designer

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

    Domino Developer and Administrator

    £40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

    General Cover Teacher

    £26000 - £27000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: NQT's and experienced Cov...

    Day In a Page

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?