Quinoa is a species of the Chenopodium family which includes goosefoot, lambs quarters, and about 250 other closely related plants such as spinach, beets, chard, and tumbleweed. Its Latin name Chenopodium quinoa comes from the Greek words chen (goose) and pous (foot) because its leaves resemble a webbed goosefoot. It is not a true grain of the Gramineae cereal grass family, but is classified as a pseudo-cereal like buckwheat and amaranth. While its leaves are edible, quinoa is harvested for its seeds. In the pre-Columbian era Quinoa was honored as the Mother Grain. It was so central to the Inca and Aztec civilizations that the conquistadors outlawed its cultivation as they strove to weaken and re-educate these people.
Gift from the Gods
The best quinoa is grown at over 12,500 feet on the Altiplano - a vast, arid, cold, and windswept plateau in the Andes Mountains. Quinoa is native to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, and Chile. Cultivated for well over 5,000 years with corn and potatoes, this whole grain was the fulcrum staple of the Aztec, Inca, Maya, and many other Native South American cultures. In traditional Quechua and Aymara languages of South America its name was kinwa, kinoa, kinua, and la chisiya mama, meaning 'the mother grain.' Quinoa was more than food, it was considered sacred and believed to be a gift from the gods. It was a centerpiece in religious ceremonies. Every year the Inca emperor planted the first quinoa seeds using a golden taquiza planting stick.
In 1532 the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro reached the Andes Mountains with an army of 158 men. The lives and culture of the Inca were changed forever. Within one year their emperor had been killed, Incan governance was forced into submission, Inca quinoa-centered religious ceremonies were forbidden, all quinoa fields were destroyed, and quinoa cultivation was outlawed to subvert the culture. The Inca were then forced to subsist on maize and potatoes which resulted in widespread malnutrition and high infant mortality rates. Eventually the Spanish introduced barley and wheat, but the Inca never fully accepted either.
High in the mountains and on the Andean plateau quinoa grew wildly. Hiding from the conquistadors, Native Americans continued to cultivate and eat quinoa. For the majority of people quinoa fell into obscurity until a resurgence of interest in it developed in the 1970s.
While the majority of quinoa grows on the Altiplano of the Andes Mountains, there are over 120 quinoa species. The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says there are six groups of quinoa varieties defined by where they grow, or the ecological zones they have adapted to: 1.) Dry Valley (Junín) and 2.) Humid Valley (Cajamarca) of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, 3.) Altiplano that withstands cold temperatures, 4.) Salt Flat of southern Bolivia, 5.) Sea Level of Chile that grows in humid conditions and stable temperatures, and 6.) quinoas of the Yunga Zone and Subtropics of Bolivia.
Plants reach from 1.5 to 7 feet in height with various varieties producing seed colors ranging from white, yellow, orange, pink, dark red, purple, to black.
Eden Foods has chosen two varieties of Antiplano organically grown quinoa — EDEN Quinoa with a uniform white or cream color seed, and EDEN Red Quinoa that is a rare Pasankalla variety. Both are family plot grown at over 12,500 feet in the Andes on the Altiplano of Bolivia.
Quinoa coats its seeds in the pericarp or bran layer with bitter saponins that repel insects, birds, animals, and funguses. Saponins are water soluble and must be removed mechanically or by rinsing in water to make them palatable. Water-rinsing quinoa at home before cooking is always a good idea as these saponins have anti-nutritional properties. When dissolved in water, saponins produce a frothy soap. South Americans use quinoa saponins as laundry detergent, and as an antiseptic for minor scrapes and cuts. The cleaning process does vary depending upon the quinoa variety. Mechanical removal of saponins usually involves 'pearling' and the removal of much of the valuable bran. Some processors use strong alkaline solutions that are anti-nutritional. When saponins are removed correctly with care there is no negative effect on nutritional value, flavor, or quinoa's superior amino acid and protein quality.
EDEN white quinoa is mechanically rubbed to remove saponins, leaving a 100% whole grain with the bran intact. EDEN red quinoa, 100% whole grain, is rinsed using only mountain spring water before air-drying. Alkaline solutions and pearling are never used.
Quinoa is not considered a high allergy causing grain, although some hyper-sensitive people find it troublesome as it is rich in protein. Quinoa is Gluten Free and highly recommended for those with celiac disease or other gluten allergies. Its superior nutritional value is better than any other gluten free grain.
Rice of the New Millennium
Today quinoa is called "superfood" and the "rice of the new millennium" due to its exceptional nutritional profile, easy cultivation, and simple cooking. Daniel Fairbanks, Ph.D. a professor of plant and animal science at Brigham Young University says, "Quinoa is a true wonder food. It has twice the protein of regular cereal grains, fewer carbohydrates, and even a dose of healthy fats." Furthermore, it is considered a "complete" protein with the best amino acid profile of all grain. Quinoa contains more lysine, an essential amino acid, than wheat. Lysine is commonly low in other cereal grains.
The Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) of the United Nations rated the nourishing quality of quinoa's protein similar to that of casein protein found in cow milk. We know that it is far better.
The United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa, "…in recognition of ancestral practices of the Andean people, who have managed to preserve quinoa in its natural state as food for present and future generations, through ancestral practices of living in harmony with nature." NASA is considering quinoa for the Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long space flights.
From ancient cultures to modern society, quinoa is known as food fit for royalty, and it is even more important for our children and grandchildren.
Gluten Free and Quick Cooking
Quinoa is categorically gluten free. EDEN Quinoa has unsurpassed flavor, pleasing texture, is exceptional nourishment that is extremely versatile and easy to cook. It is one of the fastest cooking whole grains, ready in just 12 minutes. Each small round grain is bound with a narrow wispy germ that when cooked, separates from the seed. This delicate, very small, crunchy curlicue is pleasant contrast to the soft fluffy grain.
Use EDEN Quinoa anywhere that calls for rice. It is a delicious main dish, with beans, vegetables, as a hearty hot cereal, as stuffing, and in soups, stews, salads, grain/bean burgers, and even sushi. Quinoa is used to make many kinds of desserts and puddings. Organic EDEN Quinoa Flour is not a gluten free food because it is milled in an environment that handles wheat. You can easily grind fresh gluten free EDEN Quinoa into flour yourself. Place 3/4 cup of EDEN Quinoa in a flourmill or kitchen blender and grind until it becomes flour - 3/4 cup raw quinoa equals 1 cup flour. Use the flour to make delicious wheat and gluten free desserts, waffles, pastries, and baked goods.
Sustaining and Supporting South American Indigenous Culture
Ninety-five percent (95%) of the world's quinoa is today produced by small family farm communities at over 12,500 feet on the Andean Altiplano. This area is also called the Bolivian Plateau and is the most extensive high altitude plateau other than Tibet's. Eden Foods began visiting, developing relationships, and purchasing organic quinoa from this region in 1985.
A few years ago we focused our purchases from two separate indigenous communities in Bolivia. For more information on organic EDEN Quinoa, see http://www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=220.