Quinoa, also called Rice of the Incas, has been cultivated since the pre-Columbian era. It was domesticated 3,000 or 5,000 years ago in South America, in the Andes (because it only grows at altitude), at the same time as llamas. This plant and animal have always been linked, with the llama manure acting as a powerful fertilizer for quinoa.
A staple food of the Inca Empire, and at the same time a sacred plant known as chisiya mama, or "mother of all grains", quinoa was an important factor in the continuation and development of this civilization.
When the Spaniards conquered South America, they scorned this plant, probably because of the saponin coating the grain, which is a natural insecticide protecting it from birds and insects. They forced the Incas to grow wheat, rye, and barley instead, which almost led to the disappearance of quinoa. For several centuries, it only survived in the wild, in remote areas of Bolivia and Peru.
In the 70s and 80s, Western vegetarians discovered the nutritional properties of quinoa and so, slowly but surely, it started to make an appearance on the shelves of health food stores in the United States and Europe. Then the fair trade industry, which took off at the same time, became interested in it.
In the early 90s, producers switched to organic farming, and started to export quinoa, especially to Europe, because it is less popular in the United States.
Since then, it has never stopped growing in popularity, and now quinoa, this grain that had lived in obscurity for such a long time, is widely available in supermarkets.
Other countries, the United States, Canada, and Morocco, began to cultivate quinoa. There is also a small production of it in France.
Organic quinoa grown by small producers working in the fair trade sector is always the best.
Precooked quinoa should be avoided.
Quinoa grains are sold in packets.
Gold quinoa is also sold:
. as flour: sometimes toasted, it cannot be used to make bread because quinoa does not contain gluten.
. as flakes: they can be used in the same way as oatmeal.
. cream: a very fine, pre-steamed flour.
. puffed: either plain or coated with corn syrup, or mixed with other cereals, or in muesli.
Quinoa pasta is made from quinoa flour and wheat flour.
Quinoa grains are stripped of their coating, but they still contain residues of saponin, a very bitter substance. This means that they need to be rinsed several times before use.
Quinoa is cooked in water at a rate of 1 volume of quinoa to 1.5 volumes of cold water or cold stock (contrary to what is sometimes indicated on the label). Any more liquid and it could turn into mush. Once it has started to boil, it is cooked for about 15 minutes. It is a good idea to then let it stand, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
It can also be prepared in the same way as risotto. The grain can also be toasted in a pan before being cooked in water.
Quinoa is a good substitute for cereals (rice, semolina, cracked wheat, etc.) in soups and stuffing. It can be added to salads and bulgur wheat and is served with meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish.
Cream of quinoa can substitute corn or potato starch.
The flour is mixed with wheat flour to make pasta, pancakes, biscuits, and cakes, etc.
The grains should be stored in a dry place, away from any moisture, in a tightly sealed container.
Both the flour and cream need to be kept in the fridge otherwise they go off fairly quickly (because of their fat content).
The nutritional qualities of quinoa are superior to those of all cereals.
It is much richer in proteins, and contains all the essential amino acids without any gluten.
Quinoa is also rich in carbohydrates, fiber, minerals, B vitamins, and vitamin E.
It also contains fat, which is mainly composed of unsaturated fatty acids, and is therefore beneficial to the cardiovascular system.
Gold quinoa: the most common. It is fairly tender, and its flavor is similar to cracked wheat.
Red quinoa: its texture is firmer and the flavor is reminiscent of dried fruit.
Black quinoa: wild variety and rarer. It is quite crunchy.
All of these varieties of quinoa are mainly produced in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. They are available throughout the year.