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healthy bytes: quinoa 101

Superfoods are the talk of the town right now, so I’m guessing you’ve heard or read about quinoa, the unpronounceable food that ‘looks like couscous but is supposed to be healthier’. Well, here’s everything you wanted to know.

How do you say it?

Quinoa is pronounced KEEN-WAH, and its strange name comes from a native South American language spoken mainly in the Andes. (This is where quinoa originated.)

Quinoa looks like couscous, but what exactly is it?

Quinoa is actually a seed and not a grain, which means it is higher in protein than couscous and pasta and is also gluten-free. In fact, the plant quinoa comes from is a cousin of the protein-rich spinach and beet family. There are white, red and black varieties, white being most common.

Why should I eat quinoa?

Quinoa is a more nutritious meal accompaniment than pasta or potato, as it is a source of complete protein, fibre, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. It also contains calcium, making it an excellent staple food for vegans and vegetarians.

Why isn’t everyone eating quinoa?

Firstly, if you see quinoa as a pasta alternative you’ll find it’s a little bit more expensive and also a little bit harder to find in the supermarket. I order my quinoa online at Hindustan Imports (along with my barley, rice, beans and spices) to save money and time, but you can also find white and red quinoa in most health food stores.

Another reason some people I know won’t eat quinoa is because it’s a staple food for people in the Andes, and since it’s become popular in the West these people have had to pay more to eat it. ‘In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers [in the West] unwittingly driving poverty [in South America].’ That’s another story.

So how can I eat it?

You can cook quinoa as you would pasta or rice, or you can mix it through a salad.

If you’re reluctant to ditch your rice or spaghetti, here’s a breakfast recipe I’ve been making each fortnight in which you don’t even have to boil the quinoa. I adapted it from a Donna Hay recipe to suit my own tastebuds, so feel free to play around with it.

Quinoa Granola 

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cups white quinoa

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup maple syrup or honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Mix ingredients together in a bowl and spread over 2 baking trays lined with baking paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.

This granola is excellent with yoghurt and berries, or simply milk. Allow it to soak for a few minutes if you prefer your cereal with less crunch!

(Image credit)

How do you like your quinoa? Or do you think we shouldn’t eat it? Share your own ideas below.


6 thoughts on “healthy bytes: quinoa 101

  1. I love quinoa, and as a vegan the fact that it is a complete protein makes it very appealing! But learning more about the effects that Western demands have had on Bolivian infrastructure has curbed my enthusiasm. I’m finishing my final bag (enormous, and from Costco) and then I’m done.

  2. “the effects that Western demands have had on Bolivian infrastructure”

    Can someone please explain how Westerners paying Bolivians more for quinoa would be bad for the Bolivian economy?

    If the price of quinoa is going up in Bolivia, that means that farmers are making *more* money. They increasingly seeing quinoa as too valuable to eat and prefer to sell it, which means they can buy cheaper staples such as rice or pasta, and still come out with a profit.

    Of course, global market fluctuations can leave Bolivia exposed, but the simple equation of Buying Bolivian Quinoa = Bolivians Worse Off, is unfounded. In fact, how do you think Bolivia’s economy would take it if the demand for quinoa dropped suddenly as a result of ‘that’ Guardian article?

  3. Lefa–I will grab some of that. Thanks!

    Chris, the thing is Bolivians are now no longer able to afford a staple and nutrient-rich part of their diet. And (I read it a long time ago so would have to revisit my sources) Western demand means it’s primarily Western corporations harvesting it for export, with brutal effects on both the economy and ecology of Bolivia.

  4. Is it primarily Western corporations? Does the economic data show that there have been brutal effects on the Bolivian economy? Are the Bolivians arguing this is the case?

    The point is that food miles aren’t inherently a bad thing. The amount of money Bolivia makes from quinoa – in the form of govt tax receipts and subsequent re-investment and actual farmers’ profits – probably would out-weigh the detriment of higher quinoa prices.

    One thing that would damage Bolivia however, is if other quinoa markets open up, forcing the global food price down which would devastate Bolivia’s farmers and probably mainly benefit Western agricultural producers and corporations.

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