The Quinoa Family
Coming to us from the Andes Mountains of South America, we would like to welcome quinoa to our healthy diets!
Quinoa (keen-wah) is one of those pseudo-cereals that we let pretend to be a cereal grain because its nutritional makeup is so similar. But it actually belongs to the same family as the sugar beet and spinach! This is referred to as the goosefoot family. Botanically, they’re very similar. So quinoa isn’t really a grain at all. It’s actually a seed.
Because it’s part of the goosefoot family, quinoa is a useful little plant. Its leaves can be eaten like spinach but its seeds can also be used in the same way as grain. Also, it can grow in poor soil without fertilizer or irrigation. The United Nations has dubbed it a “super crop” because they believe it could go a long way to remedy world hunger.
Related to some weeds, the quinoa plant is broad-leafed and grows to be 3 to 9 feet tall. It is an aesthetically unique and pretty plant. The seed heads can be just about any color like red, purple, orange, green, black or yellow and the stalks are a deep magenta.
The quinoa plant prefers cooler temperatures and short days and can handle mild frost. It can grow in areas not generally thought to be very fertile because of its temperature preference. It may not germinate if it’s too warm, but when conditions are right quinoa germinates within 24 hours and produces seedlings within 3 to 5 days. It should be planted ½ to 1 inch in moist soil with rows spaced at least 14 inches.
Because of its fast germination, Quinoa needs a dry harvest. It’s ready when the plants dry out, turn pale yellow or red, and lose their leaves. At this point, the quinoa seed should be able to be barely dented by a fingernail. It can be harvested easily by hand or with a combine.
Quinoa Is An Ancient Food
Quinoa has a majestic history among one of the most powerful civilizations on the American continent. It originated with the Incas in the mountains of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. It’s been at the forefront in these regions for 5,000 years. It was a staple for the Incas and is still a prominent food source for their indigenous descendants, the Quechua and Aymara people. It was a sacred crop to the Incas who called it the mother of all grains or chisaya mama. The legend states that the Incan emperor would ceremoniously plant the first quinoa seeds every year.
How We Almost Lost Quinoa
Like many of the ancient grains, quinoa slipped into obscurity in 1532 with the arrival of the Spanish. Explorer Francisco Pizarro, in his resolve to destroy Incan culture, had quinoa fields destroyed. Only small amounts survived high in the mountains. Even during this period of obscurity it was an important crop for the Altiplano Indians in the moutains of Peru and Bolivians. Quinoa grows well in high altitudes, so it allowed this demographic to thrive in this harsh climate. Still, quinoa was not well-known throughout the world.
That all changed in the 1970’s when quinoa was reintroduced to us in the modern world.
I suppose we owe that resurgence to a man named Oscar. Oscar Ichazo was a Bolivian mystic and philosopher who died in March of 2020. He had a following of students. He encouraged these students to eat quinoa with the idea that it would help them during meditation to develop a deeper spiritual connection.
This made an impression on two American student of his, Stephen Gorad and Don McKinley. They started the Quinoa Corporation and became largely responsible for reintroducing quinoa into the United States. It’s just gained popularity since then and has become a very common superfood across the world.
Now, we can benefit from the mother grain that our Incan predecessors left behind.