Survival Gardening: growing quinoa

Suppose that some long-term disaster restricts food supply and distribution in your area. Food might be available for purchase, but with rationing and/or at much higher prices. You might rely on stored food for a while. But sooner or later, that food supply will dwindle. You could hope that the government gives away plenty of nutritious food in your area, in a timely manner. (Good luck with that.)

Your main and best option in this situation, in my opinion, is to grow some of your own food. You might continue to rely, in part, on stored food. You might continue to buy some food items, especially foods that you can’t easily produce or store (milk, eggs, meat, poultry, fish). But you will be much better off, overall, if you can also grow some food.

One excellent source of protein and carbohydrates is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah for some reason). This grain is actually a pseudo-cereal; a hard dry fruit with a single seed at its center. But in terms of nutrition and its use in meals, quinoa is essentially a type of grain.

Quinoa is easy to grow. The plant likes cool and damp weather. (For hot dry weather, try amaranth instead.) It tolerates high altitudes. The grains are coated with saponins (a bitter soapy substance), which act as natural deterrents to insects and animals. Animals and birds love to feast on various grains, such as wheat, barley, oats, corn, etc. But the saponins in quinoa protect this healthy grain from a wide range of pests. For seed sources of quinoa, you can just use the quinoa that you buy in the store.

Quinoa is easier to harvest than other grains. The most common grains (wheat, rice, barley, oats) all need to be hulled before they can be eaten. Hulling requires time and effort, as well as some money for a hulling machine. Quinoa (and also amaranth) have no hulls. You simply thresh the plant (separate the grain from the rest of the plant), and clean away any leaves and other parts of the plant. You save much time and effort by choosing quinoa over other grains.

Quinoa is also more nutritious than most other grains.

Total protein content, according to the USDA nutrition database

Rice, brown, long-grain, raw: 7.94%
Cornmeal, whole-grain, yellow: 8.12%
Millet, raw: 11.02%
Sorghum: 11.3%
Barley, hulled: 12.48%
Buckwheat flour, whole-groat: 12.62%
Triticale flour, whole-grain: 13.18%
Wheat flour, whole-grain: 13.21%
Teff, uncooked: 13.3%
Amaranth, uncooked: 13.58%
Quinoa, uncooked: 14.12%
Spelt, uncooked: 14.57%
Oats: 16.89%

Keep in mind that refined grains (white rice, white flour, etc.) have a lower protein content than whole grains. White short-grain rice is only 6.5% protein. All-purpose white wheat flour is only 10.33% protein. By comparison, quinoa and amaranth are always whole grain, as there is no bran layer to remove.

You can easily see from the above list of protein content that several other grains have a total protein in the same range as quinoa. But quinoa excels not only in total protein, but also in its essential amino acid profile. Most grains have sufficient amounts of all essential amino acids — except lysine. Quinoa and amaranth are each high in total protein, high in lysine as a percent of total protein, and high in lysine per 100 grams of food.

Total grams of lysine per 100 grams of food:

Millet, raw: 0.212
Cornmeal, whole-grain, yellow: 0.228
Sorghum: 0.229
Rice, brown, long-grain, raw: 0.303
Wheat flour, whole-grain: 0.359
Triticale flour, whole-grain: 0.369
Teff, uncooked: 0.376
Spelt, uncooked: 0.409
Barley, hulled: 0.465
Buckwheat flour, whole-groat: 0.640
Oats: 0.701
Amaranth, uncooked: 0.747
Quinoa, uncooked: 0.766

So whereas spelt and oats have more total protein than quinoa, when we consider the total amount of lysine, — the most important essential amino acid for anyone with a grain-based diet — quinoa excels above other grains. Quinoa has more than twice the lysine of corn, rice, wheat, and several other grains, and substantially more lysine than spelt and barley. Only oats and amaranth are close to quinoa in terms of both total protein and total lysine.

How do you prepare quinoa? First, rinse the dry grain under running water, until the saponins are washed away. Fortunately, saponins are soapy; they produce a soapy foam as you rinse the grain. When the foam is gone, the saponins are gone also.

Next, boil the quinoa in an excess of water. Most recipes will tell you to use only the amount of water that can be absorbed by the grain, just as you would for rice. But I suggest using more water than the quinoa will absorb, just as you would for pasta. There are a couple of advantages to this technique. The excess of hot water will remove any residual saponins from the grain. You will see a thin soapy film on the top of the boiling water as the quinoa cooks. This film will be washed away when you strain and rinse the grain after cooking. Also, you don’t need to know the exact amount of water that the quinoa will absorb, and you won’t end up burning the grain. So cooking quinoa becomes foolproof.

When the quinoa is done cooking, the individual grains will become translucent, and you will see a white tail curled at the edge of the grain. This results in a food that is tender, but also has a certain crunch to it. Cooking time is 10 to 15 minutes. Then pour the water and quinoa into a fine metal strainer. The wet grain will not go through the strainer. Finally, rinse the grain with water, briefly, to wash away any residual saponins.

The resulting cooked quinoa has a mild nutty flavor, which easily accepts any set of spices and flavorings that you throw at it. You can use quinoa like rice, mixing in butter and/or cheese. You might want to add the cooked quinoa to a stir-fry of vegetables and meat or poultry. You can use pasta sauce and grated cheese, as if it were a type of pasta. You can keep leftover quinoa in the refrigerator, and prepare it as you would tabouli.

Some quinoa recipes from

– Thoreau

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