The return of the ancient grains – Quinoa

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The return of the ancient grains – Quinoa

Although there is not an official definition of ancient grains Whole Grains Council considers them to be the grains that has not been changed over the past several hundred years. Their popularity rose as people started to have serious health problems caused by wheat, mainly coming from the high gluten content. So it can be substituted with ancient grains as einkorn, farro, kamut, and spelt, because they come from the wheat family. Then there are heirloom varieties (old cultivars) of common grains such as black barley, red and black rice and even blue corn. And some grains that have not been used in western countries such as is quinoa, sorghum, teff, millet, amaranth and the ones that have not been used long time ago as buckwheat.

It is thought that quinoa is used for more than 3500 years, mainly by the Incas. There are couple types of quinoa like white, red, purple and black. Quinoa is cooked in a ratio of 1:2,5 in water in just 15 minutes. It is best to be rinsed before adding it to the boiling water, to remove the saponins because they give bitter aftertaste. Finally when cooked it has pleasant characteristic nutty flavor.

This has been marketed as highly nutritious grain, but is it so? According to the FDA standard reference serving of 45 g dry grains is one serving size, and that equals to ¾ of a cup cooked grain. That amount is an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus and manganese, but also from folate (vitamin B9), and a good source of iron, copper, zinc, thiamin (vitamin B1), vitamin B6. It is also a source of fiber and most importantly protein. Considered as a substitute for grains, primarily a carbohydrate food, this puts special highlight on quinoa (WGC, 2015). Comparing to other grains this is the only one that at 100 g dry grain has more than the necessary amount of all essential amino acids. Quinoa also contains more fat than corn, and half of that comes from essential polyunsaturated fats, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid (FAO, 2013). This grain might be very beneficial to consumer that need or they want to avoid gluten, because it is gluten free. On the negative side it is a food high in oxalate, a compound that binds to minerals, as calcium and magnesium, and by that it reduces their absorption in the body.

Consumers have already recognized the benefits of quinoa and that is most notable by sales figures. The sales had increased by 35% in 2014 (WGC, 2014) and the import of quinoa reached 68,9 pound in 2013 from 7,7 pounds in 2007 (The Wall Street Journal, 2014). The proclamation of The Year of Quinoa in 2013 by the UN with collaboration by producers from Bolivia and Peru, followed after the incredible increase of popularity of this grain. The popularity will rise even more as the crops are facing their sustainability due to the climate change. This crop can be cultivated in temperatures from -3 to 38 ºC, up to 4000 meters above the sea ground and it can survive under low moisture conditions (The World Bank, 2013). This is why besides leading producing countries Bolivia, Peru and US, this crop is produced also in Canada, European countries as Sweden, England, Holland, Italy and France, and even in Kenya and Himalayan area, making totally 70 countries that cultivate it.

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