What Is Quinoa? How Quinoa Became America's Hottest Whole Grain and Brought New Income to Bolivian Farmers

By Matthew Thompson, "Rediscovering Quinoa," March/April 2013

Farming quinoa has become big buiness in rural Bolivia as quinoa's nutrition and health benefits have made it the whole-grain darling of healthy diets.

"The argument that the expanding international quinoa market "brought new income to Bolivian farmers" is misleading insofar as it is meant to make consumers from rich countries feel that by buying quinoa they are part of a process of...

These days one hardly has to travel to enjoy quinoa. Since 1999, production has grown by about 50 percent in Bolivia, fueled by its growing popularity in the United States and Europe. Market analyst Harry Balzer of the NPD Group puts it this way: “We in America are explorers with diet. We love to try new things. Ultimately, whether something remains in our diet comes back to a few questions, and one of them is ‘Did it make my life easier?’” Quinoa fits that bill. “It’s the quickest-cooking whole grain,” Cynthia Harriman of the Whole Grain Council points out. And it tastes good. “No one wants to cook dinner for two hours and chew it for another two. Quinoa, which takes just 15 to 20 minutes to cook, fits in with people’s busy lifestyle.” It doesn’t hurt that it’s also gluten-free and much of it is Fair Trade and organic.

But quinoa is more than just another trendy option for the kombucha-and-wheatgrass set; it boasts impressive nutrition benefits. Along with offering a good dose of fiber and iron, it’s one of the few plants that delivers a complete protein—meaning it has all nine essential amino acids in a healthy balance. That’s why it’s a favorite among vegans and one of the reasons NASA scientists recommended it as an ideal food for long-term human space missions. Quinoa’s been on researchers’ radar for decades—a 1955 scientific article noted, “There are few commonly used vegetable foods other than beans and peas that have a higher protein content.”

Next: The Mother Of All Grains »

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