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23 feb201823

The Lost crops of the Incas - The Mother Grain

Cusco, PeruCusco, Peru
Do you now what is the Mother of all grains? Guess, just guess...  

If you said QUINOA then you are absolutely right! Chisiya mama (which is quinoa in Quechua language) was so crucial for the life of the Incas they considered it sacred. 

Derived from Spanish spelling of the Quechua name kinwa or occasionally "Qin-wah", it originated in the Andean region before they were colonised and baceme nation-states, where it was successfully domesticated 3000 to 4000 years ago for human consumption, though archeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding some 5200 to 7000 years ago. {"type":"book","title":"Quinoa: Production, Consumption and Social Value in Historical Context", "year":"2009","author":"Kolata, Alan L"}
Imagine the Incas domesticated it 4000 years ago and it only made to the US in the 80s! Nowadays its presence is growing especially in vegetarian and vegan circles, which made Peruvian exports of this grain in 2014 278% of that in 2010 {"type" : "www","title":"Wikipedia - Quinoa", "url" : "", "date" : "04 December 2017"}. The export price has also rise more then twice due to the demand in other parts of the world.

Surprisingly it's not considered to be a cereal, they call it a pseudocereal - despite containing better amino-acid balance than most proteins in true cereals {"type" : "book", "title" : "Lost Crops of the Incas", "author" : "National Research Council", "year" : "1989", "page" : "149"}! Can you believe that?! It is closely related to beetroot, spinach and amaranth - unbelieveable! In this picture you can see different types of quinoa, black, red, and white (on the left side) . There are many more colours of quinoa, some of them I have only read about (green, rainbow, pink, or gray), most of the time they only differ a little bit in taste and/or the time it takes to cook them.
Quinoa doesn't have to be used only as a grain. Very common usage here in Peru is to ground it into a four (you can replace wheat flour up to 30% when making bread), added to soups, or, if you fancy, made into a beer or other fermented drink known as chicha! Personally I adore quinoa soup or a salad with onion, garlic, tomatoes and avocado...
Nutrition-wise quinoa is one of the best foods out there, it can contain up to 23% of protein, compared to an average grain protein content of 16%. Next time any of you meat-eaters ask where do vegans take their protein from - turn your head to the Mother of Grain and you'll have your answer. Besides quinoa, as a mother, has lots of children also rich in protein, and the whole family makes it a heaven for vegans like me. 

After harvest, the grains need to be processed, in order to remove the bitter coating that contains saponins. What not many people might now is that quinoa leaves are also edible but its commercial availability is very limited. Personally I haven't seen quinoa leaves even here in Cusco

Quinoa's protein is high in essential amino acids lysine, methionine, and cystine, making it complementary both to other grains and to legumes such as beans (which are deficient in methionine and cystine).  

The other thing we somtimes worry about? Carrrrrrrbs. 58-68% starch and 5% sugar - starch is 20% amylose that gelatinize in the 55-65 °C. Okay that's it for the technicalities. 
Before the Spanish Conquest, quinoa was apparently grown from southern Chile to northern Colombia. Today, it is mainly restricted to Bolivia and Peru, where it is grown mainly in backyards, field margins, and as an intercrop.

The plant's daylength requirements are, for now, likely to limit its successfull cultivation in North America, Europe, Japan and other such industrialised areas to types that come from equivalent latitudes in the Andes. Despite this limitation, the plant has already shown some promise in tests of farm-scale cultivation in high altitudes of Colorado and at near sea level in Washington and Oregon states as well as in England and Scandinavia. {"type" : "book", "title" : "Lost Crops of the Incas", "author" : "National Research Council", "year" : "1989", "page" : "151"}
The punch line? Eat quinoa as much as you can as it's really good for you. Recently I have been neglecting the mother grain due to all health problems but quioa is exactly what I need to get back in shape. And if you eat quinoa, regardless of where you are, you are definitely a contributing factor to better the lives of Peruvians who grow it and the healthy, natural food industry. Oh and of course vegan :)

This short post was initially supposed to be part of a proper article I wanted to write about quinoa but unfortunately the season ended and I couldn't visit the actual fields, talk to people who grow id, and ask them all about quinoa. Hopefully when I come back to Cusco I will arrive in better time, so keep your fingers crossed!
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