Quintessential Quinoa




Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is migrating north! This 5,000 year old superfood has been slowly making its way from South America and is now being grown and served right here on the west coast.

“It’s tedious to harvest, but it is one of our owner’s passions,” says Brooke Winters, sous chef at the Harbour House Hotel on Salt Spring Island. The Harbour House Hotel serves quinoa grown right in their organic garden, from locally produced Salt Spring Seeds.

Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds says he’s been growing quinoa successfully since 1986. His business sells about 700 to 800 packets of home-grown quinoa seeds a year.

As a plant, quinoa was previously thought to flourish only at high altitudes in areas such as the Peruvian Andes. Though labour-intensive to harvest as Winters explains, it’s become a trendy “superfood” grain (actually a pseudocereal in the chenopod family and related to beets and spinach) because it is a complete protein and a good source of phosphorous, calcium and E and B vitamins. It’s also gluten-free.

Quinoa is an excellent protein substitute in vegetarian diets and Winters also sprouts it for raw recipes. The quinoa grown at the Harbour House Hotel is primarily used for menu specials and the restaurant still buys some non-local organic product, but it’s a great start. Winters explains that besides the conventional pilaf, quinoa can be ground up and used in breads and buns, and even in puddings and other desserts. Quinoa muffin, anyone?

One concern with the growing popularity of quinoa, which is still mainly imported, is the impact the demanding market has on quinoa farmers in South America. Though farmers are doing well now, the product’s popularity has increased the price of quinoa and some locals there can no longer afford to buy it. Growing quinoa locally may be important in order to sustain tradition in South America.

Currently there are quinoa crops sprouting up in Canada and the United States. In B.C. quinoa is taking root on a smaller scale at places like Mucky Boots Farm in Duncan. Quinoa germinates in cooler conditions and is harvested in the fall when the leaves dry. It’s a colourful, high-yield plant and has a natural bird and deer repellent coating. Quinoa would seem ideal for Vancouver Island considering that it prefers temperatures no higher than 32 degrees Celsius.

Keep an eye out for locally grown quinoa on store shelves in the future and have fun experimenting with this healthy and versatile food. Try out Chef Michael Smith’s toasted quinoa pilaf for a start!

By Rikki MacCuish


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