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Quinoa: The ancient Andean grain and its benefits for healthy living

Quinoa: The ancient Andean grain and its benefits for healthy living

13 February 2020

Quinoa, the ancient Andean grain, has become known world-wide, and is very popular in the U.S. and Europe. Quinoa originated in the Andes, where it is an important crop, and has been consumed by Andean people for over three thousand years. It’s easy to see why!

A new superfood

Versatile and nutritious, quinoa’s taste is mild and slightly nutty, with a soft texture. It’s the perfect comfort food. It’s fast and easy to cook, too. Perfect as a side dish, it also lends itself well to salads, soups, casseroles, stir fries- quinoa is adaptable to many dishes and styles of cooking. It comes in three colors: white, red and black, each with its own texture and flavor. I tend to cook my favorite- the three-colored quinoa combination. 

I eat it almost every day, and wherever I can. In the morning, a bowl of hot quinoa with a pat of butter and a dash of salt is a wonderful way to start my day (yes, it goes well with a cup of Cusco’s excellent coffee). I might top my morning quinoa with an egg, or some grated cheese, but it’s equally delicious just pure and simple. No corn flakes for me, thanks. 

On rather cold evenings in Cusco’s wintertime, nothing delights and warms the body as much a favorite Andean dish- quinoa soup, a light broth with tiny bits of carrot, peas, basil and other tasty herbs. 

And it’s the staple grain for so many vegetarians. One of my most successful and easy to make potluck dishes is a vegetarian quinoa casserole, with bits of cashew nuts, carrot, celery, green onion, golden raisins, and some light curry spice. Yum, and so easy to digest!

For meat eater, little bits of chicken or pork combine very well with quinoa. And I really like it as a bed for grilled fish and veggies. 

Nutritional facts

Okay, quinoa is ever more popular and always delicious. But how nutritious is it, really? Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is a grain in the amaranth family that contains ample quantities of fiber, protein, B vitamins and essential dietary minerals, such as magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and manganese- more nutrition than most edible grains. Importantly, quinoa is gluten-free. It is very healthy for you!

A few years ago, quinoa became very popular and so widely consumed in the U.S. that its price tripled, to where it cost ten times the price of wheat. That made it more difficult for many low-income Peruvian and Bolivian consumers to buy the grain, possibly compromising their food security. But this problem was temporary. Andean farmers responded to the challenge- high demand resulted in higher quinoa production and prices have since stabilized. Now, a pound of three-colored quinoa at Cusco’s popular San Pedro Market goes for about US$ 2.

To prepare quinoa, make sure to rinse it really well to get rid of traces of saponin, a bitter soap-like substance. Take one cup of washed quinoa to 2 cups cold water in a pot, cover, bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. It’s ready in about 20 minutes. You can also toast it lightly beforehand, or add some blended garlic for extra flavor. Then, find you favorite quinoa recipes or be creative and make your own tasty, nutritious quinoa dishes that everyone will enjoy.

And when you make your way to Cusco on your upcoming Andean journey, you’ll have many opportunities to savor quinoa, including at Andean Lodges four awesome mountain ecolodges, where our expert chefs use only healthy local ingredients, including quinoa, to make a wide variety of Andean culinary delights. Cusco awaits for you!

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