By Sera Lawrentz and Emma Frisch

Given the explosion of press around quinoa, a lot of my fellow eaters have asked me about quinoa: what I think about it, how to cook with it, how to shop for it and more. To best answer your questions and concerns, I’ve teamed up with Sera to serve you multiple courses of bite-sized reports on this superfood.

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If you had access to a food that was nutrient dense, GMO free, high in fiber, a non-animal protein source, low in fat, high in B vitamins, magnesium, and essential amino acids – would you eat it? What if you knew that for the past 7,000 years farmers have applied sustainable growing practices to this crop, careful not to exhaust their natural resources or cause severe ecological damage? You would probably at least try it, right?

Quinoa (keen-wah), a seed grain from the Andes Mountains, embodies all of these characteristics. Its popularity has been on the rise in America for at least a decade. People with gluten allergies, vegetarians, or those seeking an alternative to animal protein are flocking to this nutritious superfood. Despite its accolades, there have been growing concerns over the production of quinoa, in particular on three major issues: economic, environmental, and health (or nutrition).

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The Economy

Since 2006, the Guardian reports, quinoa has tripled in price. While high prices for quinoa are good for small-scale farmers, they don’t come without complications. If the global market becomes saturated it can cause a glut, which would drive prices low enough to bankrupt small-scale farmers similar to that of the Vietnamese coffee crisis. Farmers could lose everything very quickly.

The Environment.

When agricultural products like quinoa grow in demand, land use and the environment come into question. For 7,000 years Andean farmers have been growing quinoa under highly sustainable practices. Last year Time magazine reported that quinoa fields covered only 10% of the land while llamas grazed on the remaining 90% of the land, producing the best fertilizer for maintaining and restoring fields where quinoa was grown. According to Time, “now llamas are being sold to make room for crops.” Farmers in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador will be confronted with the demand for quinoa but many wonder if they will be able to keep their sustainable practices.

Health.

Traditionally a staple food for the Andean diet, quinoa is becoming less accessible to local populations. The NY Times reports that while prices have risen for quinoa since 2006, Bolivia’s consumption fell by 34 percent in that same period. The Guardian explains that poorer areas in Bolivia can’t afford to purchase quinoa, which has become more expensive. With the price point increasing, some farmers are willing to forgo personal consumption of quinoa to sell it in the marketplace. There is also a growing trend for families to eat westernized foods like pasta or rice with less nutritional value. Bear Witness Pictures reports, “the social stigma is that quinoa is still a poor person’s food, not a Whole Foods hot commodity. They choose to eat pasta or rice because of its increased availability and, to them, because of its novelty.”

Delicious served with a slice of (optional) rye-pumpernickel toast!

Curried Potato and Quinoa Soup (Recipe)

Easy, Scrumptious Quinoa Recipes

Quinoa is incredibly easy and rewarding to prepare. Not only is it a nutrition-packed, fast-cooking grain, it also absorbs whatever flavor profile you choose. Try making “risotto” with stock, Italian herbs and olive oil or Thai curry with coconut milk.  It has a lovely texture, with a slight crunch and delivers a light yet filling finish.

Quinoa is covered in a bitter coating called “saponin,” which protects the seeds from birds and other predators. To remove this subtle flavor, rinse the quinoa before cooking. Add it to a fine mesh strainer and run water over the grains until the frothy, soapy foam is removed. Note: You can tell when quinoa is finished cooking because white threads on the grain become visible.

Lemon Zested Coconut Quinoa Porridge
Chocolate, Pistachio and Cardamom Quinoa Cookies
Quinoa Salad with Roasted Squash, Leeks and Toasted Almonds
Orange and Kale Salad with Tahini Quinoa
Rainbow Chard Salad with Rosemary-Plum Sauce, Toasted Cashews and Popped Quinoa
Orange and Watermelon Radish Salad with Nutty Gorgonzola Quinoa
Quinoa Risotto with Squash, Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Strawberry, Mint and Quinoa Salad
Rhubarb-Strawberry, Mint and Quinoa Parfait
Mushroom and Leek Quinoa Risotto

Hungry for More?

“Quinoa: Food or Money.” PEAKS
“It’s OK to Eat Quinoa.” Slate
“ UN kicks off ‘Year of Quinoa’ with focus on world nutrition.” UN – International Quinoa year
“Quinoa: The Dark Side of an Andean Superfood.” Time Magazine
“Is it ethical for rich countries to eat quinoa?” NY Daily News
“It’s OK to Eat Fair Trade Certified Quinoa.” Fair Trade USA

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