Quinoa – Ancient Secret of the Andes

Dianna Cabello, Staff Writer

In years past, if the word “Andes” were spoken in conversational circles, one would likely instinctively associate the word to the ancient civilization of the Incas, or perhaps the lost city of Macchu Picchu, or maybe best yet, the small, rectangular, decadent crème de menthe after dinner mint that has “Andes” written diagonally across its green foil wrap. Either way, “Andes” has not been synonymous with the ancient food from South America, quinoa, until recent years. Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, is the incredibly, unexpected, ancient super food from the Andes whose secret has been discovered and has taken global health foods industries by storm.


Quinoa is native to South America and was revered as the most sacred food of the ancient Incas, also known as the altiplano Indians, of the Andes Mountains in Peru and Bolivia.  Quinoa has been the premium food of the Andean diet for thousands of years and is grown miraculously at 10,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level. This most sacred food was believed by the altiplano to have been a divine gift from the gods because of its remarkable and incomparable health benefits. It was believed that consumption of these sacred grains would sustain the body with increased endurance, and enlighten spiritual and physic abilities. According to an article in vegparadise.com, ancient super human stories of quinoa were found “During the period when the Incas thrived in Bolivia, relay teams of barefoot runners would carry news from one region to another, often covering 150 miles in a 24-hour period. Bolivia’s elevation is over 12,000 feet above sea level, an altitude where oxygen is considerably reduced. How did the runners perform this unbelievable feat? A practice still prevalent with today’s Bolivian athletes involves combining coca leaves and ash from the quinoa plant and holding it in the cheek. The combination increases the body’s oxygen because quinoa ash releases alkaloids in the coca.”  Because of quinoa’s fantastical consumption benefits, the altiplano natives coined quinoa as la chisiya mama, meaning “the mother grain.”

When the Spanish explorers conquered the Andes and took control of the Inca culture, quinoa fields were mostly obliterated, except those hidden fields that grew wild and unbothered in the higher altitudes of the Andes.  For several hundred years, quinoa fell into obscurity until its revival in the late 1900’s.  


Quinoa’s ability to cultivate in the most unexpected weather conditions make this food even more miraculous and intriguing. The quinoa seed has proven itself to effectively withstand harsh droughts and compromised environmental weather elements. And because of its unique hardiness, NASA is considering growing it on extended space missions.


The altiplano were correct in recognizing its incomparable health benefits. Quinoa is highly nutritious and supplies the body with protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In addition, in our ever-increasing organic and gluten free American diet, quinoa itself is also gluten free and because it is low on the glycemic scale, it is a remarkable choice for diabetic diets. There are a multitude of ways to prepare, present, serve, and enjoy quinoa. An abundance of recipes and dishes can be found in cookbooks and in online recipe websites.

Dianna Cabello is a Staff Writer for Latino Giant and an English Language Arts Educator in the DFW area in Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas in Arlington with a  Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, with emphasis an on Mexican-American Studies and a Minor in English. She is involved and highly supportive of the Latino community in North Texas and support the progressive endeavors of the emerging community Latino leaders.

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