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The Andean Supergrain

Growing crops is tough when your plot’s elevation is a couple miles up in the air. High on the Bolivian plateau, the soils are dry and rocky and the climate is arid. The Incan Empire settled here many centuries ago. And as a matter of survival, they figured out a way to grow a crop powerful enough to fuel armies. Long before the Spaniards landed in the New World and introduced wheat and other whole grains, the Incans subsisted on an Andean superfood. They had named it Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah).

Quinoa is cherished for its nutritional value. It contains 10 essential amino acids, is high in protein, gluten free, and can be substituted for rice, noodles, or potatoes. In Carracollo, Bolivia, quinoa is a staple: mothers substitute it for mother’s milk.

Quinoa’s popularity has boomed in recent years. It has gained traction as athletes have begun to swear by it. NASA researchers are contemplating growing it in spacecraft for future long term missions. And, people with food allergies use it as an alternative to wheat.

People started cultivating quinoa in the Andean highlands in 3000 B.C. It’s native to western South America and grows from Columbia to Chile, but mainly in Peru and Bolivia. Quinoa grows in very high elevations, from 8,000-12,000 feet, and many varieties are resistant to freezing and drought.

Cool days and cooler evenings are the specific environment in which this superfood grows. In Bolivia, they call it “chisiya mama,” or mother grain, in the native Quechua language.

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