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Articles - A Healthy Diet:

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A trendy, new plant from South America

Once upon a time, an unattractive-looking tuber conquered our fields and our plates: the potato. Now another crop plant from South America is poised to become a hit in Europe: quinoa. It grows in Peru and Bolivia, even above 4,000 metres. Long gone are the days when it was limited to patients suffering from coeliac disease: It has advanced to the status of a delicious side dish.

Three varieties are now also grown in Europe

Dutch scientists at Wageningen University have now managed to overcome the last obstacle, which has until now stood in the way of popularity with consumers: quinoa’s high saponin content. Saponins are bitter components that protect the plant from pests. In the past, quinoa had to be hulled and processed to reduce the saponins. Thanks to the research that has been carried out, three new varieties have been introduced to the market. They do not require the Equatorial region’s number of daylight hours and are, furthermore, free of this bitter element. Approximately 20,000 hectares of land are dedicated to quinoa cultivation in France alone, and it is becoming increasingly widespread in the Netherlands, too. Whereas common varieties of quinoa were too bitter, the new types are a source of interest for baby food.

Quinoa can be cultivated on unfavourable land

From the point of view of botany, quinoa is not a cereal and is therefore known as a “pseudocereal”. As an amaranth growth, it is closely related to “white goosefoot”, which is also known as “melde”. In contrast to the bothersome weed, quinoa has useful characteristics, however: Thanks to its tolerance for a high salt content in the soil, it can also be cultivated in places which were previously unusable for cultivation as a result of improper irrigation resulting in salinisation.


Scientists are currently working on improving other characteristics, such as increased resistance to blight and a reddish colour, which consumers have become used to in the South American types. Rich in protein and gluten free – quinoa has already become hip.


Source: Friederike Heidenhof, www.aid.de