Kemp's Kitchen: Quinoa

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Of course, a recent rise in demand in North America and Europe for this protein–packed seed has resulted in a rise in the price, and enough so that it’s become out of reach for many Bolivians, as The New York Times reported. Not everyone agrees with the Times report. Edouard Rollet, cofounder of the American wing of the fair trade company Alter Eco, travels often to Bolivia and says that many Bolivians hadn’t been eating it anyway because it was considered the food of the poor.

Rollet’s fair trade practices, inspired by his friend Tristan Lecomte, founder of Alter Eco in France, respects the Bolivian farmers and works closely with ANAPQUI. Because of fair trade, many of the farmers are now able to send their children to school. Rollet says that the farmers have traditionally kept a certain percentage of their harvest for themselves and to sell at the local market, and that because of the price rise, the co–op is rethinking how it sells quinoa locally. He assured me that the co–op will not allow 100 percent of its product to be exported. Alter Eco only imports Bolivian Real (a.k.a. royal quinoa), grown in the altiplano—the high–altitude desert area between the salt flats and old volcanoes in southern Bolivia—which has a special mix of minerals in the soil. Call it terroir. The royal quinoa sports distinctly larger, thicker seeds and a richer flavor than that grown in other areas.

It was only a matter of time before some enterprising souls tried to grow it in the United States. In 1984 the late Dave Cusack, an academic researcher and activist, brought the seeds to Colorado, which has areas of high–elevation plains similar to the Andean altiplano. Cusack’s colleague at the University of Denver, professor John McCamant, teamed up with Ernie New to grow quinoa at White Mountain Farm in the San Luis Valley of the Rocky Mountains. New is a total convert to quinoa. “I eat it anyway I can get ahold of it,” he says.

The tiny grain that packs a powerful protein punch has undoubtedly sprouted quite the following. My husband and I don’t trudge as far as Incan soldiers did, but we do swear by quinoa as our breakfast of champions on those mornings when we know we’ve each got a crazy day ahead of us. We eat it year–round: hot in the winter and cooled to room temperature during the warmer months. Quinoa has come a long way since its days of obscurity, now thankfully rooting itself as a superfood for all seasons.

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