Mother of all grains

A staple of the health food store, Quinoa, pronounced ‘keenwah’, is a highly nutritious grain crop originating in South America, which was once considered ‘the gold of the Incas’.

Mother of all grains

This small grain, chenopodium quinoa, belongs to the same family as spinach and beet and is related to the common weed, Fat Hen, otherwise known as Lamb’s Quarters (chenopodium album). The Incas referred to it as ‘chisaya mama’, or mother of all grains, and considered it sacred, using it not only in their meals, but also in rituals.

Considering its many health properties, it truly is an ancient ‘superfood’. Quinoa is gluten-free and and is a complete protein, as in it contains all the essential amino acids required by the body to grow and repair tissues. It is higher in amino acids and protein than any other grain and, being rich in iron, calcium, potassium, and copper, it can prevent diabetes, osteoporosis. childhood asthma, heart diseases, gallstones and migraines.

Quinoa is a wonderful source of fibre and has a low content of saturated fats and cholesterol, making it an ideal food for every health-food aficionado.

Growing Quinoa in Ireland: Quinoa is a hardy annual crop that is tolerant to both low temperatures and low rainfall, and is cultivated in coastal areas and in altitudes over 10,000 feet in South America. Quinoa may not be a familiar crop to Irish fields, plots or plates, but, due to its tolerance of low temperatures, it grows quite well here.

Madeline McKeever, of Brown Envelope Seeds, has been experimenting with growing the seed in West Cork over the last number of years and, when I spoke to her about this highly nutritious crop, she said it has the potential to be important for Irish home-growers. However, she says she doesn’t know if it could be grown on a field-scale here, as it needs indoor drying before threshing. The seed sprouts in the heads if it is left to mature in damp conditions, making combining difficult.

This year, Madeline grew a variety called Shelly 25 Colorado Black Quinoa and, although it was sown late, it did well and it was easy to remove the saponins from the seeds.

It only required a couple of rinses, while cooking, and, of all the varieties Madeline has grown, to date, this has had the best flavour and proves the most promising. For more information on Madeline’s quinoagrowing and seed-saving adventures, check out

Cooking Tips: As the seed of quinoa has a coating of saponin that imparts a bitter taste and is quite toxic, it is advised to soak seeds for at least 15 minutes and rinse under cold, running water, to guarantee a pleasant and delicate flavour.

Prepackaged quinoa has usually been pre-rinsed, but it’s best not to rely on processing and always rinse or soak prior to cooking. This soaking, before cooking, will also help it to cook evenly.

The grain can also be prepared in the same way as boiled rice. Boil two cups of water to prepare one cup of quinoa and cook it for 15 minutes. Keep it aside to let it absorb water. The size of the seed will increase significantly, with a tender and springy texture.

Add salt and black pepper, as per taste. Never add salt to quinoa, until it is finished cooking, as it will cause the seeds to harden.

Quinoa can be served at breakfast, as porridge, by adding honey, milk, nuts and fruits. Bolivians serve a traditional drink of quinoa, apple, sugar and milk to help kick-start their day.

It can also be enjoyed as a salad by combining cooked and chilled quinoa with seeds, beans, coriander, scallions, cheese or whatever takes your fancy. Quinoa flour works great in cookies and muffins recipes, imparting its own unique flavour.

It also works well as a stuffing or in stews and soups, mixed with lots of seasonal veggies and topped with cheese.

The year 2013 has been declared ‘The International Year of the Quinoa’ celebrating this ancient grain’s exceptional nutritional qualities, its adaptability to different agro-ecological floors and its potential contribution to the fight against hunger and malnutrition.

To support this international celebration, why not contact Brown Envelope Seeds, order quinoa seeds and contribute to the preservation of this Superfood by growing it in your own garden next year.

To order, go to

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