You may or may not have heard of this already. It’s called quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) and it’s a pseudocereal with properties that have made it an attractive staple food to peoples since the Incas – it was cultivated as early as 3000 BC.
Nutritionally, quinoa is thought to be superior to cereal crops as it has a good amino acid balance, a protein content of 10-18%, and it is gluten free. On top of all this, it has been proposed by the FAO to offer food security for the future, particularly because it is hardy at high altitudes where maize will not grow.
Quinoa is also versatile in terms of culinary use and can be prepared in a variety of ways; the leaves can also be used as a vegetable, and the whole plant as fodder for animals; it also has potential as an oil crop.
A Bioversity International (previously IPGRI) project has found that, despite increased developed world interest in and income from quinoa, lower diversity and poor nutrition have resulted. This is because the communities in southern Bolivia prefer quinoa processed the traditional way but don’t have time to do it themselves due to the rise in commercial farming. One of the problems with quinoa production is the time it takes to process – 6 hours for 12kg. So, a machine has been developed in conjunction with a local mechanic and inventor to reproduce the usual treading and winnowing carried out by women who process quinoa the traditional way. Read this CGIAR news release for more info.
Bioversity International’s core research work is partly funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), with the objective of conducting research in plant genetic and maintaining genetic resources for the benefit of poor farmers worldwide. Details of other DFID funded projects, such as this conference paper ‘Crop diversity and livelihood security in the Andes: the case of potatoes and quinoa’, can be found on the research information portal, R4D, developed and maintained by CABI and its partners.
This site has everything you could want to know about the cultivation and nutritional value of quinoa.
CABI has also made 0.5 million abstracts available via Google, and you can find 127 of those, on quinoa, here.