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Chenopodium quinoa (Chenopodiaceae)

South American Indians have given us quite a few vegetables now grown all over the world, such as potatoes, tomatoes, beans and corn. A possible reason for quinoa not being among that group is that, after the Conquest, Spaniards failed to bring any back to Europe. The probable reason for their neglecting to do so is the presence of saponins in the shell of the edible seeds. These chemicals, deriving from terpenes or steroids, are soap-like (hence their name) and foam upon being dissolved in water. Yet, Amerindians harvested quinoa for 5,000 years on the high plateau regions of South America.

It is a grassy annual, rising about 2 ft high, spreading to 1-1.5 ft. It belongs to the same family as spinach or beetroot. The seeds are rich in protein (16-18 % in weight) and iron, they provide all the essential aminoacids, and are low in lipids. A serving of quinoa provides more calcium and protein than a quart of milk. It contains as much protein as meat. It's high in iron, magnesium and potassium. One health benefit is osteoporosis prevention. Quinoa seeds need to be washed thorougly in cold water prior to cooking in order to remove the saponins. They should then be cooked in three-times their volume of water, for 20-30 mn. Once cooked, their outside remains crunchy, not unlike fish roe. They have a nutty taste.

Quinoa can be served in like manner to rice, couscous or bulgur.