Keen What? Quinoa! All About This Ancient Grain From The Andes - eat2explore

Keen What? Quinoa! All About This Ancient Grain From The Andes

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a tasty and versatile addition to all kinds of dishes which can also be a dish all by itself.

But what is quinoa?

An indigenous plant of South America, specifically high in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia, quinoa grew around Lake Titicaca, a natural water boundary separating the two countries.

 view of Lake Titicaca in Peru

Archaeological evidence suggests that the domestication of wild quinoa began somewhere between 3,000-5,000 years ago. It’s been a staple of the Peruvian culinary scene since the time of the Incas!

This hearty plant thrives in the climate of the Andes mountains. What kind of climate is in the Andes?

  • Intense heat during the summer
  • Frigid cold in the winter
  • Altitudes of 8,200 feet
  • 13,000 feet above sea level
  • Not a lot of rainfall

It's a good thing quinoa doesn't require a lot of water!.

quinoa plants

Related to the spinach plant, quinoa is grown primarily for its seeds, though the leaves of the plant are edible, too. It packs a punch when it comes to nutrition density!

The tiny seeds are filled with nutrients like plant-based proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

The Incan people figured that out, and they used quinoa to keep their armies fed on long journeys through the Andes. They regarded this ancient grain as a sacred food, calling it chisaya mama or mother grain.

Temple of the sun in Peru

Among the many festivals in Peru, one traditional Sapa Incan ceremony included planting the first seeds of the growing season. They used gold tools to plant the seeds.

Prayers would be said to their sun god, Inti, to ask for his assistance with their crops. They believed this would ensure their crops grew well, and the harvest would be plentiful.

Even though it was part of the culture for hundreds of years, quinoa was replaced with the more common grains of the Spanish conquistadors and settlers, such as barley, oats, and wheat.

No More Quinoa?

quinoa with no symbol

The conquistadors even banned the planting of the crop due to the importance the Incans placed on quinoa!

Despite the ban, the indigenous people living in the rural areas kept growing the grain and using it, Fortunately for us, quinoa gradually made a comeback.

From wild plants to domestication thousands of years ago, the cultivation of quinoa has helped it adapt to many different climates around the world. As many as 1,800 varieties of the plant exist across the globe!

If you look for quinoa at the grocery store, you won’t find 1,800 varieties, though. Can you imagine how much space that would take up?!

But you will find several kinds you can try.

Wha Are The Common Varieties Of Quinoa?

red, black, and white quinoa seeds

The most common variety is white quinoa. Sometimes it’s just called quinoa because the color isn’t totally white. It can be tan, yellow, golden, or blond. It cooks up light and fluffy, similar to rice, and can be substituted for rice in many dishes.

Red quinoa is commonly used in cold salads. This variety holds its shape well and has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture.

 bowl of quinoa salad with spinach and tomatoes

Black quinoa has a distinct “earthy” flavor and is ever-so-slightly sweeter than the white variety.

Quinoa also grows in a rainbow of other colors including purple, orange, green, pink, and grey. The other colors aren’t usually found in stores but are available in local shops in the growing regions.

Quinoa Is Very Versatile

Quinoa can also be made into things like flour, flakes, pastas, and breads.

 quinoa, broccoli, and egg bowl

Depending on what you’re making, quinoa can be used in all sorts of ways. Experimenting with the different available varieties and forms is the best way to find out what works where!

These versatile little seeds can be added to salads, used as a breakfast porridge, stirred into soups and stews, and are perfect for a vegetarian diet.

You can even make “burger patties” and taco “meat” using quinoa. Naturally gluten-free and packed with nutrients, it's the perfect addition to your healthy eating style!

bowl of quinoa red bean chili

Try quinoa on its own, or add it to one of our delicious dishes from our Peru box. There's no better time to explore gluten-free recipes with eat2explore!

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