by Chelan Skulski
People around the world are going crazy for quinoa, and Saskatchewan is no exception.
Bolivia named 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa to promote the nutritional benefits of the seed, pronounced keen-wa. This special year also aims to credit the hard work of the Indigenous peoples for preserving the seed in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Georgia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
The word has spread and menus across North America are flooded with quinoa options.
Along with popularity the seed has also acquired controversy. A recent article in The Guardian suggested that while the seed provides nutritional benefits, farmers who grow it can no longer afford to eat it due to rising prices.
Some experts have challenged this argument, stating that while demand has increased, those farmers are now able to make a sustainable livelihood from farming quinoa.
In an attempt to meet this demand in Canada, Saskatchewan farmers are now growing the seed.
“We started in the 1990s thinking quinoa was going to be the grain of the future and the grain of 90s and then the 2000s and it wasn’t until 2010 when it started to pick up. Our customers were smaller and quinoa was more of a niche thing; they have grown with us over the years…Now that quinoa is popular enough we can rely just on the quinoa product,” said Michael Dutcheshen, manager of Northern Quinoa Corp.
Quinoa grown in Saskatchewan is a golden colour whereas quinoa grown in southern countries is white. Taste also differs slightly however nutritionally the products are quite similar.
Dutcheshen said that the seed is successful in Saskatchewan but it can only be grown in certain regions. For example, the Northern Quinoa Corp grows primarily north of Highway 16, near Norquay, because southern parts of the province are subject to potential heat blasts which can damage the crop. Also, Saskatchewan can only harvest from May through September.
David Drummond, head cook at the 13th Avenue Coffee House in Regina began using quinoa two years ago. “We substitute the rice in our rice bowls for it.. (it sells for) any where between $12 to $13. I find it goes really good with the Jiven Jerk Bowl; it’s a spicy jerk sauce with pineapples, it’s really good,” he said. However, the limitation of Saskatchewan’s growing season causes the restaurant to purchase imported brands, such as TruRoot, during the winter months.
Drummond said quinoa’s ease of cooking might be a reason for its popularity, “You would usually just cook it in a rice cooker, and you can also steam it. You can grind it up (and) use it as flour. There’s a lot of things you can do with it, you can roll it up and use it to make quinoa flakes,” he said.
But the food’s main attraction is its nutritional quality. “A cup can range from about 5 and 10 grams of fiber and between 10 and 15 grams of protein. Its actually considered one of the highest quality plant sources of protein.” said Katherine Mcleod, health studies and kinesiology professor at the University of Regina. Research indicates quinoa is a healthy choice regardless of where it is grown.