June 14th, 2019
“Queena what” I hear you shout! Quinoa (pronounced kwin-oa or keen-wah) is a fashionable cooking ingerdient in the 21st century – popular with 5* restaurants and soup kitchens alike. It’s a type of grain (think cous-cous or rice) and a plant of the “goosefoot” family which is primarily found in the Andes. It has been widely cultivated for thousands of years for its edible seeds and more recently exported to global markets because of its healthy properties.
Quinoa is not something that is usually associated with the UK, at least not in terms of being grown here. Native to the Andes, in particular Peru and Bolivia, quinoa has been cultivated there for thousands of years. It was a staple food of the Inca people, who believed the crop to be sacred, and is known as the “golden grain” because of its value not only as a food source but also as a profitable export. During the mid 20th century quinoa made its way to health food shops in the western world and by the 21st century firmly has its place as a “super food”, appealing to anyone who enjoys healthy living and is willing to give the tongue-twisting food a try.
But just what is this mysterious super-food? Sometimes compared to cous-cous, quinoa is often used to replace other starchy carbohydrates in meals, such as pasta or rice. Quinoa contains over six times more protein than white rice (14g of protein per 100g compared to 2.5g per 100g for rice). Add to that the fact that quinoa is lower in carbohydrates and is packed with amino acids, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin E and B vitamins, which means this little grain really is a super-food. In fact, quinoa is deemed as such an important food that 2013 was declared as International Year of Quinoa by the UN, in recognition of its global nutritional and cultural importance.
And an entrepreneur in Shropshire has recently began a business venture that means he is the first person in the UK to grow quinoa for food consumption. Stephen Jones runs the company British Quinoa, that grows, processes and supplies british grown quinoa to supermarkets and wholesalers across the country.
“Essentially, I started to become interested in quinoa because as a vegetarian I was trying to find something better for my diet”, explains Stephen. “I came across quinoa in a magazine article and it sounded really healthy. So I tried it and I liked it, and after a while, I started to wonder if we could actually grow something like this in Britain. And of course, if you don’t try these things you don’t know.”
Stephen began his trials in 2006 alongside being in full-time education, using a patch of land on the family farm on which to experiment, but it wasn’t always plain sailing, and it took until 2013 for a commercially viable crop to be grown. Most of the quinoa that we currently consume is imported from South America or the USA, and as Stephen’s Shropshire quinoa was the first to be grown commercially in the UK, he was something of a pioneer. He firmly believes that the taste of British quinoa is different to the imported varieties.
And it’s not just good for human health either. Stephen believes that growing quinoa is great for the health of our landscape too.
“Personally, I think that quinoa is really good for the environment,” smiles Stephen. “Firstly, quinoa is a spring sown crop so once we’ve harvested the seeds in the previous autumn a lot of the weed seeds are left on the surface for the birds to eat over winter, therefore giving them a food source. And having spring sown crops is hailed as being one of the big things that can help bird life in the UK by leaving that food in place for them,” he says.
And furthermore, having a different variety of crop in the British farming landscape will surely provide a different variety of wildlife with a habitat and food.
“I’ve seen huge numbers of birds around the crop, often sat on the seed-head (which are strong enough to act as a perch for them). Also, as we don’t use any insecticides at all, we seem to get a lot of butterflies and ladybirds within the crop as well, which can’t be a bad thing, can it?”
And Stephen tells me that the idea of British quinoa has been well received by most people, despite the air of mystery that sometimes surrounds the edible seeds. Many people haven’t heard of quinoa, and many more people haven’t tried it.
“Yes, I’ve seen a massive change,” says Stephen. “I was quite forward thinking when I stumbled across quinoa, and I assumed I’d have to do lots of marketing to educate people about what it is and the health benefits. But essentially by now, the hard work has been done for me because it’s certainly a lot more known than when I started out. We’re able to tap into those markets straight away, which is great.”
And if you’re still reluctant to try this tasty, healthy super-food, Stephen has some advice.
“It’s a much more versatile product than people realise. It’s possible to get a whole array of quinoa product in the UK, such as the wholegrain, quinoa flowers and flakes. You can even bake it or make puddings, I’ve made a really good quinoa chocolate cake. You should give it a try!”
Stephen has been hailed as a creative agricultural entrepreneur, because bringing new and fresh ideas to the British farming industry is not a simple undertaking. But with successful and forward thinking farmers like Stephen leading the way for dynamic farming through to the next generation, it seems the much loved agricultural landscape of Britain will be in safe hands, albeit with a few slightly exotic additions.
Find out more about Stephen and British Quinoa at www.britishquinoa.co.uk