Five-star health food: Why the demand for quinoa soars in the developed world

A panorama of wildly colored field in the Andean desert, the source of a multi-nutrient staple crop, makes quinoa farm a piece of natural art.  Growing to heights taller than the average human size, quinua real or royal quinoa can flourish even in the most hostile conditions—surviving nightly frosts and daytime heat, high altitude, saline soils, and lack of water supply.  It is a first-rate substitute for rice for its slightly milky taste and can be made into gluten-free flour.  These qualities make it an increasingly demanded crop in many parts of the world, particularly in developed countries.

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Gram for gram, quinoa is one of the planet’s most nutritious food sources, making it a dream item for nutritionists and dieticians.  It grows best in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru.  Previously a crop sacred to some pre-Hispanic Andean cultures, it has become a five-star health food for the middle class in Europe, the United States, and increasingly, Japan.

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A “superfood,” quinoa averaged $3,115 per ton in 2011, a three-fold price increase since 2006.  Colored varieties are even more valued.  Red royal quinoa is sold around $4,500 a ton and the black variety has a suggested retail price of about $8,000 per ton. The crop has become a lifeline for the people of the Oruro and Potosi regions in Bolivia, one of South America’s economically challenged nations.  Increase in cultivation and price means that wealth from this agricultural gem will soon be realized in these particular regions.

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has already designated 2013 as UN International Year of Quinoa, recognizing the crop’s resilience, adaptability, and potential to fight hunger and malnutrition.

Janique Madison is an eco-warrior and advocate of sustainable development.  Her blog provides more information about her advocacy for nature.


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