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Ingredient Spotlight: Quinoa

Red Quinoa

From starting as a South American staple to becoming a featured ingredient in recipes across the web, quinoa has grown from its humble beginnings and is rapidly becoming an addition to health-conscious diets everywhere.

Quinoa’s nutty flavor and firm texture makes it a good substitute for grains like rice and barley. It’s a more nutritious option that beats out the competitors on mineral and protein value. Quinoa is an excellent grain replacement for gluten-sensitive and low-carb diets. The seed of the Chenopodium quinoa plant, it also boasts a high value of essential amino acids; 37% of the protein in quinoa is made up of amino acids.

The Politics of Quinoa

2013 was announced as the International Year of Quinoa by the UN – not only for its place in our kitchens, but also for the role it is playing economically for the farms that produce it.

The increase in demand for quinoa has spiked price and production, lending a hand up to many low-income farmers. Quinoa is a weather resistant crop that can be grown in harsh conditions, making it an ideal crop for food-insecure communities around the world because of its nutritional content.

Half of the global supply of quinoa comes from Bolivia, where demand has been a boon, but also an opportunity for improvement. Land rights disputes have sparked some violent outbursts, and there is fear that land used to grow crops for the people of Bolivia to eat could be monopolized by quinoa growers, leading to food shortages. As always, there are two sides to every story. Columnist Ari LeVaux from Slate said the negative press coverage of quinoa farming “threaten[s] to kick the legs out from under one of the most promising industries in one of the world’s poorest places.”

News stories claiming that Bolivians can no longer afford to eat quinoa were refuted by President Evo Morales, stating to CBS News that domestic consumption had actually increased threefold in the past four years. Even so, Bolivia has yet to find a stable middle ground between exporting and feeding its people.

To be sure you are supporting healthy economic growth in these communities, look for the fair-trade certification on your quinoa packaging.


“It’s Okay to Eat Quinoa” by Ari LeVaux for Slate, Jan. 25, 2013.

“Worldwide quinoa ‘fever’ stressing Bolivian farmers” CBS News, Feb. 21, 2013

- Alivia Duran


1 Comment

  • Marvin April 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Great info! My vegan friends turned me on to quinoa in the past year and reading this makes me want to have some now, especially since my body tolerates it so much better than too many carbs!


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