Quinoa is a Future 50 Food that has long been a staple in South America but has recently gained popularity in Europe and North America, where it has been marketed since the early 2000s as a tasty and nutritious replacement for rice.
A surge in demand for just a few varieties of quinoa has forced farmers to take measures to increase yield, much to the detriment to surrounding trees, soil and water. Luckily, quinoa is not very resource intensive when compared to similar crops, and therefore can and should be grown following sustainable practices.
Our demand for just a few of the 3,000 varieties of quinoa have led farmers to stop growing others. This lack of diversity has resulted in environmental degradation and damaged soil, because the land is not left to fallow (rest between harvests).
There are now incentives in place for farmers to grow less common types of quinoa and programs to encourage their consumption in schools and restaurants. This has opened global trade opportunities for farmers, and has benefited local economies. The quinoa case stresses the importance of growing and eating a wide variety of grains and cereals to decrease our reliance on just a few specific types.
Botanically, quinoa isn't a cereal but a relative of spinach, beets and chard. It's a hardy plant that requires little fertilization and can tolerate frost, drought and high winds. This means it can grow in diverse climates and terrains, including areas with minimal irrigation or with as little as three to four inches of annual rainfall!
The most commonly cultivated and exported varieties are white, red and black. Texture varies between them, but the flavor remains largely the same.
Quinoa contains all 9 of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It's also gluten-free and contains a balance of protein, fat, minerals and vitamins.
In Bolivia and Peru, it's eaten mainly in stews and soups. It can be prepared easily by being brought to a boil in stock or water, then reduced to a simmer until all the liquid is absorbed. Substitute it for rice in dishes such as pilafs, stuffings, salads and even veggie burgers, giving them a nutty flavour and enhancing texture.
It can also be ground and used in breads and pastas. As a Future 50 Food, quinoa is good for you and good for the planet.