Quinoa, the gift of the gods for our table
The Incas called it the “mother of all grains” and not without good reason, since it has been the staple food of the Andean people of Chile, Peru and Bolivia for over 5000 years. Quinoa is grown at high altitudes and its high protein content makes it a valid substitute for meat. Seeds are traditionally roasted or boiled to obtain a fermented, slightly alcoholic beverage. For the local populations, it has always been considered a gift of the gods to man.
But what are the real properties of this plant? From a botanical point of view, quinoa belongs to the so-called pseudo cereals, i.e. plants whose seeds are dried and ground to make flour but that do not belong to the family of grasses but rather to others, in this case to spinach and beets (Chenopodiaceae). But this does not really matter in the kitchen, where it behaves exactly like other cereals.
It is considered to be one of the most nutritious plant foods. It is high in protein, as already mentioned, not only in terms of quantity but also quality: in fact, it contains all the essential amino acids, or those amino acids that our body cannot make, and must therefore obtain from dietary sources.
Quinoa is also much higher in fibre than many other common cereals, and it is also naturally gluten free, making it a great alternative for people who suffer from celiac disease or intolerances. It also contains many minerals our body needs, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron, albeit in different amounts depending on the different soils in which it is grown.
Quinoa has been on supermarket shelves for several years now and more and more often we find it in menus as an alternative to pasta or rice. For these reasons, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa, in recognition of the ancestral practices of the Andean people who have managed to preserve it for present and future generations.
And who knows if in the future quinoa will become - as it happened in the past for other foods originating from the Americas, such as potatoes, corn and tomatoes - a component of our culinary tradition and our daily tables....