Quinoa was rescued from relative obscurity on the shelves of health food shops and jettisoned into the consciousness of the general public only relatively recently. Today, not only can you find it in most major supermarkets, it's also processed into an ever growing range of manufactured foods from soups and cereal bars to crackers and corn puffs. And mostly everyone now knows how to pronounced it these days (keen-wah not quin-o-ah).
In the wake of the rising number of people with gluten sensitivities, quinoa has been heralded a superfood; a healthy alternative to wheat, barley, rye and other gluten-containing grains. But how did this previously secret crop of the Incas feeding the indigenous people of South America's Andean region for centuries, find fame?
It surprised me to learn that it was NASA's research in 1993 that helped catapult quinoa to the wider attention of the western world. In their report¹ "Quinoa: an emerging "new" crop with potential for CELSS" (Controlled Ecological Life Support System) Greg Schlick and David L. Bubenheim identify quinoa as having
desirable food qualities for CELSS application--high protein and desirable amino acid composition. In addition, the ease with which it can be prepared and combined with other crops makes quinoa an ideal candidate crop.
Quinoa's nutritional profile really is impressive. Not only does it contain all essential amino acids², it's also loaded with flavonoids, including quercetin and kaempferol and it's higher in fibre than most grains. No wonder NASA was impressed.
Recently, I've been exploring ways to incorporate more quinoa into our diet from cakes and burgers to curries and chillies. This recipe for one-pan Mexican quinoa appealed due to its quick and simply credentials. Turns out it scores highly when it comes to the kids clearing their plates too!
² histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine