Quinoa, the Andean “superfood” known by the Incas as the “mother of all grains”, is getting a promotional boost from the United Nations, which has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.
The spotlight is overdue for this long-neglected crop, for centuries grown almost exclusively by indigenous communities in the Andean highlands but now being heralded by foodies and nutrition-conscious consumers around the world.
Why? Because quinoa packs a potent nutritional punch. In fact, it’s so rich in nutrients that NASA chose to include it in astronauts’ diets. Rich in protein and minerals, Quinoa is the only plant containing a complete range of amino acids. It’s also gluten free. What’s more, it is able to adapt to different ecological conditions and climates. Resistant to drought, poor soils and high salinity, it can be grown from sea level to an altitude of four thousand meters and can withstand extreme temperatures.
At the recent ceremony to kick off the International Year at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized quinoa’s potential to contribute significantly to the “Zero Hunger Challenge” he launched in June 2012, while helping counter the effects of a warming planet.
New ally in hunger fight
FAO head José Graziano da Silva declared quinoa “a new ally in the fight against hunger and food insecurity” and noted that the crop was already showing potential in Kenya and Mali and could also be developed in other arid regions of the world.
The effort to promote quinoa is part of a broader FAO strategy to promote traditional or forgotten crops as a means to combat hunger and promote healthy eating.
“The International Year of Quinoa will serve not only to stimulate the development of the crop worldwide, but also as recognition that the challenges of the modern world can be confronted by calling on the accumulated knowledge of our ancestors and the small family farmers who currently are the major producers of the crop,” said Graziano da Silva.
FAO hopes that the yearlong series of cultural, artistic and academic activities, as well as scientific research, will contribute to the well-being of thousands of smallholder farmers and to consumers worldwide.
Gift of the Andes
Quinoa was of great nutritional importance to pre-Colombian Andean civilizations, second only to the potato. Traditionally, quinoa grains are roasted and then made into flour for bread. It can also be cooked, added to soups, used as a cereal, as pasta and even fermented into beer or chicha, the traditional drink of the Andes.
Quinoa production now extends beyond the Andean region and – besides Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Argentina – it is also produced in the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Kenya and India.