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Andean ‘super food’, quinoa

QUINOA (pronounced KEEN-wah) originated with the Incas in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. It has been at the forefront in these regions for 5,000 years. It was a sacred crop to the Incas who called it the mother of all grains or chisaya mama.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) named 2013 The International Year of Quinoa.

Quinoa has now been singled out by the FAO as a food with “high nutritive value,” impressive biodiversity, and an important role to play in the achievement of food security worldwide. As the world faces the challenge of increasing the production of quality food to feed a growing population in a changing climate, quinoa offers an alternative food source for those countries suffering from food insecurity.

Quinoa is the only plant food that has all nine essential amino acids, trace elements, and vitamins, and also has the ability to adapt to different ecological environment and climates. Quinoa can grow in diverse climates and terrains, including areas with minimal irrigation and fertilization.

Though it is often called a whole grain, quinoa isn’t a grain at all. True grains like wheat and maize are derived from grasses, whereas quinoa is a member of the same food family that contains spinach, Swiss chard, and beets. It is basically a “seed” which is prepared and eaten similarly to a grain.

Twenty years ago, NASA researchers declared quinoa as a potential “new” crop for NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS). The CELSS concept will utilize plants to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and generate food, oxygen, and water for the crew of long-term human space missions. Quinoa is a potential crop for CELSS due to its high productivity and desirable nutritional characteristics.

(To be continued) (Floro Mercene)

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