Quinoa Uncovered: How American Foodies Became Obsessed With a South American Poor Man's Grain

Quinoa, with its slightly nutty taste and high protein content, is the grain "du jour" among health-food junkies in the United States. In the last decade, the price of a 12-ounce box has jumped from 99 cents to $4.50, according to the brand Ancient Harvest.

Cultivated in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia for over 5,000 years, quinoa was a food staple for the native Incas, who called it "chisaya mama," or "mother of all grains." The Incas considered it so sacred that the first seeds of the season were sown by the Incan emperor using a golden planting stick.

But the grain-like crop has not always enjoyed such high status. When the Spanish arrived in South America in the 1500's, they saw quinoa as a poor man's food associated with non-Christian rituals. They destroyed the fields and made growing quinoa an offense punishable by death. The Incas had no choice but to grow wheat and barley instead.

Revered once again today -- in South America for its lucrativeness and in the U.S. for its health benefits -- quinoa is gluten-free, high in protein, and rich in nutrients like manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus. Quinoa may be healthy, but it's difficult to find recipes that make you crave it. Try this quinoa risotto, or quinotto, served at the Restaurant Parque Antumalal in the Hotel Antumalal in Pucon, Chile.


Ingredients:

1 cup washed quinoa 2 cups water ½ cup mixed vegetables (try peas, chopped carrots and corn) 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese 2 cups vegetable stock 1 Tbsp. butter 1/2 cup cream Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cook the quinoa as if you were cooking rice. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add quinoa, lower the flame and cover, letting it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Saute the vegetables and add cooked quinoa and vegetable stock, a little bit at a time. Once the quinoa is al dente, add cream, butter, salt and pepper. Top with parmesan cheese.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

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Olivia Katrandjian

After graduating from Amherst College in 2009, Olivia Katrandjian moved to Bangkok, Thailand and traveled through Vietnam, Laos, China, Hong Kong, and South Korea while writing a travel column for The Bergen Record. Olivia then joined the Armenian Volunteer Corps and moved to Yerevan, Armenia, where she worked as a journalist for the Civilitas Foundation and wrote for The Los Angeles Times and PBS Frontline. Olivia now works as a freelance journalist for ABC News in New York, a travel writer for the Huffington Post and has also written for The BBC, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Abu Dhabi National. She volunteers for the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry and is writing her first book. To see more of her writing, go to www.oliviakatrandjian.com.

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