Even before the domestication of corn, Mesoamerican people had been cultivating quinoa. Quinoa, pronounced KEENwa, is a pseudo grain, not a true grain, but can be used as a grain. The eatable seeds of the quinoa were their major cultivated staple food source over 4,000 years ago. The first wild quinoa, originated in Mexico, was consumed about 7,000 years ago, but began being cultivated at the time the pre-Colombian Amerindians became farmers.
The quinoa is related to the beet, spinach and tumbleweed plants. Due to its ability to grow at higher altitudes of 12,000 feet and more, in poor sandy soil and its capability of withstanding frost and intense heat, it became the ideal crop of the Inca who dwelt, and still do, in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. In fact, the Incas of Peru owed their empire to the dependable harvest of quinoa. The Incas call quinoa, chisaya mama, the mother grain. The Quinoa was incorporated into their religious ceremonies as it is today. At the time of planting, the Emperor of the Incas would sow the first seed using golden tools, no doubt with great celebration and ritual.
With the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century CE, the crop was targeted for eradication. The Conquistadors’ quest was to convert the natives of the Americas to Christianity and since the quinoa was closely associated with the Inca religion and cultural identity, the Spanish burned the fields and made it punishable by death to grow it, forcibly substituting wheat in its place.
Once cooked the quinoa has a fluffy nutty taste and can be substituted for rice or couscous. The seeds can also be ground up and used as flour. Quinoa sprouts can be put in salads and sandwiches. The seeds of the Quinoa contain a balanced set of essential amino acids and a complete protein; making the quinoa a wonder food. Quinoa can be a rich source of B, A, and E vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.
Besides that, quinoa is gluten-free. It is said that one out of 133 people in the United States have gluten sensitivity; which can cause depression and digestive problems accompanied by painful stomach cramps. Loss of balance, anemia, osteoporosis, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, diarrhea, and autism, among other diseases, may be attributed to gluten intolerance.
At this time over 200,000 pounds of quinoa seeds are grown by farmers in Colorado, USA. Some health food and specialty stores carry quinoa products, and it is available on line from Internet-based business.
After harvesting the seeds, they must be washed very well to remove the saponin, a powdery resin, which will cause a bitter taste and can be toxic. Saponin is actually a soapy compound, called glycoside.
Most quinoa seeds have been processed before being commercially packaged and sold, but it is a good idea to rinse them again before use.
It is important to rinse well, several times, while sprouting them. Always make sure the rinse water is soap-free.
Because of the presence of saponin, insects and animals will avoid quinoa’s consumption making it an even more hardy plant and perhaps fewer insecticides are necessary during its growing season. In South America the saponin is used in detergent and as an antiseptic for skin injuries.
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