Quinoa, a grain native to South America, has gained considerable popularity in recent years. It has earned a reputation as being a versatile food and for packing an incredible nutritional punch. There are many different varieties of quinoa. These differ greatly based on the location where they are grown. This difference in climate and geography create varying quinoa grain colors and differing flavors. Quinoa grown in Peru tends to be the lightest in color and mildest in flavor.
Quinoa has been a staple of Peruvian cuisine for over 4,000 years. It was considered a hallowed grain by Ancient Incan culture. The grain was almost lost when Peru was conquered by Spain in the 1500s. The Spanish conquistadors insisted that wheat be grown instead of quinoa. However, the hardy grain continued to flourish in the wild and was restored as a staple food source after Spanish rule had been established. In modern Peru, quinoa remains a cornerstone of the cuisine. The grain has also become a star in the international health and gourmet market. This has raised concerns in Peru and other quinoa growing countries. The higher worldwide desire for quinoa has driven up the price. This could be both good and bad. Although increased quinoa demand provides economic stability for Peru through export sales, there is a fear that poorer Peruvian citizens will not be able to afford a food product that is a major part of their cuisine. Steps are being taken to ensure that enough inexpensive crop remains in Peru to feed the general public while still maintaining a healthy export for income. In 2013, the United Nations acknowledged the International Year of Quinoa.
Quinoa’s rise in worldwide popularity comes mainly from the fantastic nutritional value it contains within the grain. Quinoa is vitamin rich and high in protein. Since it qualifies as a “complete protein”, many vegans and vegetarians have found quinoa to be an excellent replacement for meat. It is a great source of calcium as well. Research into the grain has shown that it may even have several healing properties. Quinoa is high in dietary fiber, which is incredibly beneficial for weight loss and maintaining a healthy digestive system. It is also gluten free, making one of the only grains allowed for people suffering from celiac disease. The grain also has a natural coating, which has shown to be beneficial for everyday life. The coating protects the grain in the field by making it unappetizing to birds and vermin. It also provides a natural sun barrier to keep the quinoa from burning. The coating must be washed away before it is fit for human consumption. Once it is washed from the grain, the residue can be used as an industrial detergent or antiseptic.
Besides being a nutritional powerhouse, Peruvian quinoa has developed a large following in the culinary world. It is one of the quickest grains to prepare and one of the most versatile. From start to finish, quinoa takes about 15 minutes to prepare. Unlike other complex grains, quinoa can be served with very little additional seasoning. Traditionally, quinoa preparation has had a rich culinary history in Peru. The grain finds its way into a large number of traditional and modern Peruvian recipes. It can be used in every course of a meal. Recipes can be found that incorporate quinoa into beverages, salads, side dishes, main course and desserts. A popular traditional preparation is a fresh, quinoa salad. This recipe calls for cooked and cooled quinoa to be mixed with a variety of fresh vegetables. Typically, the salad has cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh mint. The grain and vegetables are mixed with oil and lime juice. Salt and pepper are added to taste.
Home chefs looking to prepare this super food need only to look to the internet. Online retail giant Amazon.com carries several different brands of quinoa. Several of these brands are specifically the mild, light colored, Peruvian variety and come in many different sized packages.
Quinoa has certainly earned its many accolades for taste and nutritional value. The people of Peru have much of their cuisine and great deal of their history wrapped up in this grain. The rest of the world is slowly learning the many benefits of this food.