At some point quinoa was a word unfamiliar to most, pronouncing it was a struggle, and people couldn’t be bothered when there were more familiar alternatives like rice. Nowadays, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know what quinoa is due primarily to society’s newfound obsession with health and “superfoods.”
What are superfoods? Supposedly, “nutrient powerhouses that is especially beneficial for health and well-being.” Other superfoods include blueberries, tomatoes, and kale. Recently, superfoods with more cosmopolitan origins have been experiencing surges of popularity such as acai berries, goji berries, and quinoa.
Quinoa has historically been cultivated in the Andes region of South America. Most quinoa consumed in North America still comes from South America, though some commercial production takes place in the United States. The year of 2013 was designated to be “The International Year of the Quinoa” by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
It is appreciated for its versatility in dishes and its high levels of nutritional density. It is commonly associated with grains due to its appearance, but is actually a seed and lacks the shortcomings often embodied by grains. For example, quinoa has twice the protein and fiber content of rice and barley, and is a complete protein source, meaning it provides all nine essential amino acids.
While it is difficult to argue that, as a standalone source of nutrition, quinoa underperforms, it is also difficult to say that the superfood phenomenon is one that people necessarily need to endorse with their wallets. Needless to say, people partake in varied diets, and the nutrients from all these different sources combine to provide the same levels of nutritional value as that which is provided by quinoa.
The fact of the matter is that the price of quinoa has skyrocketed in the past years. As a result, it has been argued that the Indigenous populations of the Andean regions, traditionally sustained by the food, are slowly being forced out of the market, and can no longer eat their own staple food.
The superfood is actually benefiting the agrarian culture of the region, which has farmers seeking the highest prices for their produce. The rise in popularity allows the farmers to make more money, allowing them to afford a more varied diet.
Locally, the pricing of quinoa can still be an issue. Amazon prices a 0.43 kg bag of quinoa at $6.99, while a 0.9 kg bag of brown rice is priced at $2.99 and a 1 kg bag of black beans at $4.55. Rice and beans together, actually provide more nutrients than quinoa is able to on its own.
Evidently then, quinoa is an impressive source of nutrients, but not always the most economically prudent. It is not necessary to buy into the superfood trend in order to eat a well-balanced and nutritionally dense diet. It is fun to try new foods, but you can achieve the same effects with combinations of foods, such as seeds and legumes; exemplified by a spinach salad with almond dressing and sesame seeds.