Quinoa from Bolivia - Gold of the Incas

Quinoa - Mother Grain

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a grain that comes from high up in the Andes Mountains of South America. Though it is called an amazing "new" super food, Quinoa's origins are ancient. It was one of the staple foods of the Incan civilization. Quinoa was known as the mother grain or chisaya mama.

What is it?

Most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard. It is a recently rediscovered ancient "grain" once considered "the gold of the Incas”.

Quinoa is the seed of the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant. The name comes from the Greek words, chen (a goose) and pous (a foot). This is due to a resemblance of the leaves of the plant to the webbed foot of a goose.

A History of Quinoa

Quinoa has been cultivated in Peru, Chile and Bolivia for over 5,000 years, and it has long been a staple food in the diets of the native Indians. The ancient Incas called quinoa the "mother grain" and revered it as sacred. Each year at planting time it was traditional for the Inca leader to plant the first quinoa seed using a solid gold shovel! Quinoa was used to sustain Incan armies, which could march for days eating "war balls" of quinoa and fat.

During the time the Incas thrived in Bolivia, relay teams of barefoot runners would carry news from one region to another, often covering 150 miles in a 24-hour period. Bolivia's elevation is over 12,000 feet above sea level, an altitude where oxygen is considerably reduced. How did the runners perform this unbelievable feat? A practice still prevalent with today's Bolivian athletes involves combining coca leaves and ash from the quinoa plant and holding it in the cheek. The combination increases the body's oxygen because quinoa ash releases alkaloids in the coca.

When the Spanish conquerors came in the 1500s, they wanted to control the South American Indians. So they destroyed the fields in which quinoa was grown, and made it illegal for the Indians to grow quinoa. The Indians were actually forced to grow corn and wheat instead.

Yet, the “mother grain” did not go away entirely. And native South American Indians still today consider the grain an essential part of their diet.

In the 1980s, two Americans discovered the nutrition potential of quinoa. They went back to Colorado and tried to cultivate it in the Rockies with some success. Still, most the Quinoa you find available comes from South America, as it thrives in the Andes high elevations.

What’s so great about Quinoa?

Quinoa contains more protein than any other grain; an average of 16.2 percent, compared with 7.5 percent for rice.

Quinoa is a complete protein with an essential amino acid balance making it a great solution for vegetarians concerned about getting enough protein and aminos.

Also, Quinoa is full of the amino acid lysine which is essential for tissue growth and repair.

Quinoa features a host of other health-building nutrients. It is a very good source of magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus, and may be especially valuable for persons with migraine headaches, diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Quinoa is low on the Glycemic scale, making it a great choice for diabetic diets.

Plus it tastes great!

What does it taste like?

Quinoa is a seed that has a fluffy, creamy, slightly crunchy texture and a somewhat nutty flavor when cooked.

What is it used for?

It can be used to replace rice in stir fries or wherever a more delicate grain is desired. Quinoa makes a delicious breakfast cereal, or it can be used in soups. Quinoa seeds can also be sprouted and eaten as raw, live food.

Where can I find it?

Quinoa is available in your local health food stores. You can buy it by box or in bulk. It is also sold on-line. It is sold as seed, as well as flour.

How do you store it?

If stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator, Quinoa can last months.

How do you prepare it?

Quinoa MUST be washed before cooking. This is because the tiny seeds have a bitter resin-like coating (called saponin). The boxed grain comes prewashed, but it is still a good idea to wash it again yourself. Simply put the grain you will be cooking in a fine strainer & rinse under cold water, using your hands. You may notice soapy water coming out. Quinoa can be cooked just like rice: 1cup water to ½ cup grain.

In South America the saponin which is removed from the quinoa is used as detergent for washing clothes!

My Favorite Quinoa Dish

There are certainly many recipes for this delicate grain. My favorite is simply a Quinoa Bowl with Shrimp & Peas.

Recipe: 1/2 cup of Quinoa,1 cup water, 1/3 lb of shrimp, 1/4 lb of Peas, 1 clove Garlic

Bring water to a boil add Quinoa. Simmer on low for 15mins. Sauté small to medium shrimp (bite-sized) in butter & garlic. When Quinoa is done, add peas & cover to lightly cook the peas. Add bits of garlic. When shrimp are done, add to a bowl of quinoa. Season with black pepper. Enjoy!


Judith Fine-Sarchielli 5 years ago

This sounds like a great substitute for Shrimp pasta that I sometimes make with rice pasta (Tinkyada rice pasta is the closest to true Italian pasta. HOwever, I can't eat it often as there is too much sugar in the rice carbos for me.

I could eat your dish daily and use only wild shrimp, a wild salmon, or a wild seafood mix.


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Native Gardener 5 years ago from Topanga Canyon, California Author

Thank U, gluten-free granny! Your input means a lot to me. I prefer the shrimp to the salmon only because I can then eat it in a "bowl" :-)

Tambra 5 years ago

Everything i needed to know about storing, preparing, and enjoying this superfood...thanks Native Gardener :)

Native Gardener 5 years ago

Thank you for commenting, Tambra. I esp enjoyed learning about the barefoot runners in Bolivia, who were 'fueled' by Quinoa!

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