Science in the Community Article: Qinoa This article discusses some of the benefits and some of the immerging problems associated with quinoa. Firstly, quinoa is a pseudo grain grain. This means that it looks much like a grain, like millets especially, but in reality is part of the family called chenopods, this same family as beets and spinach. However, while it is not a grain, it has been the staple of the Incas and the modern day Bolivians for thousands of years. One reason for its long lasting success as a staple food is its incredible nutritional value.
Quinoa is one of the few plant foods known to contain all 26 amino acids, making it a perfect protein. What’s more, quinoa happens to contain most of these amino acids in proportions ideal for human consumption. In addition to the high amount of proteins, quinoa is an excellent source of magnesium, manganese, iron, and phosphorus. Iron especially is a mineral mostly found in animal sources, making quinoa very desirable for vegetarians. NASA even investigated quinoa as a primary food source aboard future long-term missions to Mars.
Another benefit of quinoa is its sticky saponin coating. Each seed has a sticky resin that protects the seed from bugs and bacteria as well as overwatering. The resin coating is also very bitter, which detracts birds as well. Thanks to the saponin coating, the crop needs very little protection or fertilizer, which can improve the safety of eating the crop. However, both the harvesting of the crop as well as the processing of the saponin coating must be done by hand. Sadly, there are several problems associated with quinoa.
Most importantly is its affect on the people that grow the pseudo-grain, the indigenous Bolivians. Strangely enough, these are the ONLY people that grow the grain. Quinoa is not cultivated anywhere else on earth. When quinoa became recognized internationally for its nutritional value, demand for quinoa skyrocketed. The price also skyrocketed. Quinoa must be harvested and processed by hand, and this contributes to the high price. Farmers now exclusively sell quinoa for export because of the high price they can sell it for.
However, these same farmers can no longer afford to buy the grain for themselves because it is too expensive. Studies have shown that while in the majority of Bolivia, malnutrition rates have been slowly rising, partially due to the large social programs put in place by President Morales, malnutrition rates have been rising in the small isolated quinoa-growing communities.