Quinoa is NOT a grain!
Yes, you have heard it before. Quinoa belongs to the grass family, similar to spinach, chard and beets. The exact species quinoa belongs to -Chenopodium (kē′nō-pō′dē-ŭm)- is clearly even harder to pronounce than the word quinoa (“Keen-wah”) itself. It seems that this seed just revolves around unpronounceable words!
What about the Pasankalla (“pa-san-kai-ya”), the Heirloom Red quinoa variety that grows exclusively on the Bolivian Alitplano and has been traditionally reserved for the royalty? Or Chisaya Mama (pronounced chee-sa-waya ma-ma), the word used by the indigenous Quechuan and Aymara quinoa farmers to refer to quinoa, which translates into the “mother of all grains”? As one can see, decoding these arcane words unveil the ancient story of this super food, it’s reverence by the indigenous people who cultivate it, as well as its exceptional nutritional value.
But no matter how hard to pronounce, we have many easy ways to prepare and cook quinoa. Chorizo Quinoa Burgers, Caribbean Quinoa Salad, Quinoa Falafels … Check out our scrumptious recipe section, where you can borrow quinoa recipes from other Alter Eco foodie fans and post yours to share with the world!
Speaking of cuisine, make sure you watch the latest videos we shot in Bolivia during a visit to the ANAPQUI cooperative [here and here]. You will see firsthand how quinoa is traditionally prepared by the indigenous communities of the Altiplano. The quinoa preparations high up there in the desert are centered around how the natural bitter layer of the plant’s protection, called saponine, is removed, rather than the ingredients it is served with.
The various sequences of toasting, airing, and crushing will define the final taste and form in which quinoa will be consumed by the farmers in their daily diet. This meticulous manual processing of the seed can be in part explained by the limited number of vegetables and edible plants that can grow in such a high and arid desert. These extreme conditions are precisely how quinoa gets its exceptional strength. These conditions also limit the number of ingredients that can be paired with the quinoa up there: mainly potatoes and carrots.
Thanks to higher prices, Fair Trade and the long term partnership we have had with the ANAPQUI farmers in the last 12 years, the farmers are now able to diversify their food consumption and go to local markets where they can buy salad, tomatoes and a wide variety of fresh veggies. As quinoa makes its way into our cooking and eating habits, those same farmers who grow our quinoa get access to a variety of fresh vegetables and local foods to pair with their homegrown quinoa. Beyond food sovereignty, we see here real progress for indigenous communities who have been living in extremely basic conditions, but know how to pronounce many words that we still can’t!