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Super food quinoa prices skyrocket and amaranth also joins the vegan staple dish

Have you noticed a recent rise in the price of quinoa grain and quinoa flour across the USA? There currently is a rising demand for quinoa in the nation. And the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing a grant to fund work on domestic production of quinoa, according to the March 25, 2013 Washington State University news release, "WSU responding to US demand for quinoa." You might also check out articles such as, "Quinoa prices rose more than 86% in 2013" and "Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?" Quinoa for centuries had been the staple food in the diets of Andeans who had very little money to buy other types of food, until word of quinoa's health benefits traveled around the world.

Quinoa and amaranth as super foods.
Photo by Brian Clark, Washington State University. Researcher Kevin Murphy stands near a plot of quinoa at WSU's organic farm.WSU responding to US demand for quinoa.

The price of quinoa has risen so far, not only in local supermarkets here in the USA, but in countries such as Peru, quinoa costs more than chicken, and many of the locals can't afford the grain they used to eat for centuries.

Vegans love quinoa because it has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains essential amino acids

As sales skyrocketed, quinoa became a miracle grain from the Andes grown in countries such as Peru and Bolivia. The price of quinoa has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and "royal" types commanding particularly handsome premiums than the cream-colored or pale yellow version of the grain.

Some Americans are turning to amaranth which is a super food grain and more affordable at the local supermarket than quinoa for the time being, at least until the crop becomes a staple with American farmers here. Additionally, Europeans also want their quinoa. It's served usually as a substitute for rice or other grains.

Europe's high demand for quinoa

In another news report from the December 5, 2012 news release, "Tasty and gluten-free," research has shown that not every person can eat what they like. Far from it, one in every 250 people in Germany is intolerant to the protein gluten, which is chiefly found in the cereals wheat, spelt, barley and rye. Experts call this intolerance celiac disease.

For those affected, this means giving up bread, pizza, pasta and cakes, while ice cream wafers, dumplings and pretzels also pass onto the list of banned foods. Those suffering from celiac disease, a chronic bowel disorder, must keep to a strict diet if they are to avoid diarrhea, stomach ache, vomiting and other symptoms. Accordingly, only gluten-free products make it onto the menu.

Indeed, demand for these food products, mainly offered by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), has risen steadily over the past years

Nevertheless, many consumers dislike gluten-free pasta and bakery products because they are unappetizing, lacking in texture and leave a disagreeable sensation in the mouth. This is a view confirmed in consumer tests involving celiac disease sufferers and healthy volunteers. The tests form a key part of the EU project Gluten Free, which is being coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising.

Partners include ingredient providers and food producers as well as research institutes from Germany, Ireland, Italy and Sweden. The aim of the project is to enable SMEs to develop premium, tasty gluten-free products that the consumer will eat with real enjoyment and satisfaction. The focus is primarily on bread and pasta, and on improving their taste, smell, appearance, texture and sensation in the mouth.

Gluten is good for baking because it holds the dough together

"Gluten contains two protein fractions, the gliadins and the glutenins. These form a network-like structure – the dough matrix, if you like – giving the dough good porosity and a viscoelasticity that allows it to keep its shape and remain elastic in the baking process", says Dipl-Ing, Jürgen Bez, scientist at IVV, according to the December 5, 2012 news release, "Tasty and gluten-free." Gluten-free bakery products dry out more quickly, crumble more easily and have a shorter shelf-life.

Pasta without gluten overcooks more quickly, and is sticky and less elastic. "As a result, finding ingredients to compensate for gluten's positive properties is a challenge", says Bez, according to the news release. The process begins as early as the selection of raw materials: quinoa, for instance, often produces a bitter taste.

Nevertheless, researchers have been successful in finding ingredients such as plant proteins, which lend pasta and bakery products the same structuring effect as the protein gluten. Hydrocolloids like xanthan gum, HPMC and dextran have all been examined carefully, as well as seeds taken from cereals and pseudocereals like amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat.

Amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat are called pseudocereals

In addition, scientists analyzed protein isolates taken from potatoes and pulses like lupins, broad beans and peas, as well as investigating the interaction of a variety of recipe ingredients during the production process, and the ways in which this affected texture, sensory properties and aroma profile. A whole range of recipes were tested; for example, researchers combined proteins with soluble fibers like xanthan gum and HPMC or with insoluble citrus fibers.

"Adding the hydrocolloid xanthan gum succeeds in giving dough a particular elasticity, though here the end result is heavily dependent on the concentration, the proportion of water, the type of flour and the other ingredients. Getting the right combination is crucial", summarizes Bez, according to the news release. "As a rule, hydrocolloids alone are not enough to offset the lack of gluten, and proteins need to be added to recipes."

It's the combination that counts

Thanks to a special production technique, scientists are able to extract a protein isolate containing viscoelastic properties from the seeds of lupins and broad beans. This was another technique developed by Bez and his team at Fraunhofer IVV. "By adding lupin proteins, we were able to improve the volume of baked goods", says the researcher, according to the news release.

Scientists also established that adding sourdough helps prevent loaves from going moldy so quickly, observing that dough becomes more elastic and that loaves stay fresh for longer. What's more, some gluten-free flours are more nutritious than wheat flour. Test subjects rated oatmeal, rice flour and teff flour particularly flavorsome.

Bez considers the project a success, pointing to project partners' success in producing a range of new and improved gluten-free breads, including toast bread, leavened bread and oat wholemeal bread, ciabatta, baguettes and pizza dough. Four of the baked goods producers involved in the project are already using the recipes for ciabatta, wholemeal bread and pizza dough.

Furthermore, researchers were able to produce tasty, gluten-free spaghetti with a high fiber and protein content. Bez is confident that it won't be long now before we see some of the new products lining bakery and supermarket shelves. You also may wish to see the site, "Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft"

US government grant given to grow quinoa in the USA

The grain-like seed crop quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has grown in popularity and likely will be grown more widely in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to a $1.6 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant recently awarded to Washington State University (WSU) researchers, according to the March 25, 2013 Washington State University news release, "WSU responding to US demand for quinoa."

Quinoa is in demand because it is a highly nutritious, high-protein, gluten-free alternative to grains and rice. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has declared 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa, with a goal to "focus world attention on the role that quinoa´s biodiversity and nutritional value play in providing food security and nutrition and the eradication of poverty."

Traditional quinoa producing countries like Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru are not keeping up with U.S. demand, said Kevin Murphy, according to the news release. Murphy is a lead scientist and plant breeder for the WSU project. "Demand is driving distributors, wholesalers and retailers to seek domestic, reliable sources of quinoa, and this spells opportunity for Pacific Northwest farmers," he said. "Consumers want organic and local sources of quinoa."

The WSU project aims to identify the best varieties suited for organic production in the region, develop best management practices for production and assess market demand and future marketing options for quinoa growers and sellers

Quinoa's potential to increase options for regional farmers and locavores, as well as to address global food security, lies in its adaptability to marginal growing conditions. "Compared to other crops, quinoa has excellent drought and salinity tolerance," Murphy said, according to the news release. "Quinoa can adapt to many environmental and climatic conditions. It thrives in a wide range of soil pH and tolerates light frost and late rains."

A needed improvement is heat tolerance. So far, Murphy's trials indicate that varieties bred from Chilean germplasm are best adapted to high maximum temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.

WSU hosted the International Quinoa Research Symposium Aug. 12-14, 2013 in conjunction with the International Year of the Quinoa. Researchers from around the world gathered in Pullman, Washington in 2013 to learn about research, varieties and breeding field trials. Another alternative to quinoa is amaranth.

Amaranth diet

An amaranth smoothie tastes somewhat like a thick, chocolate milkshake, except it's nondairy, and you don't add sugar, fat, or cream. What you do start with is a cup of amaranth cooked in 2 cups of water. You cook it like any other grain, until it's soft and chewy. When the amaranth is soft enough to your taste, let it cool. There's no gluten in amaranth. In fact in addition to amaranth, you also can puree cooked quinoa in a smoothie for a similar, creamy type thickness if you prefer a thick, fruity beverage to a grain pilaf.

Recipes abound for quinoa as a substitute for wheat or rice, but another super food on the market is a smaller grain called amaranth. You can cook amaranth like a grain to make a pilaf or grain dish, but since the grains are so small, puree it with liquid and turn it into a smoothie, as an alternative to serving it as a side dish instead of quinoa or rice.

Next, put it in a blender and puree it with a cup of unsweetened almond milk and a cup of coconut water (not from concentrate). The coconut water usually contains about 10 gm of sugar found naturally in the coconut water, per eight-ounce cup. Now add a handful of fresh or frozen strawberries and a handful of fresh or frozen mango chunks. Blend it all into a smoothie/puree/emulsion and chill or freeze. If you want to turn it into a type of frozen dessert, add a half cup of grated organic coconut and puree until smooth in your blender, then freeze.

Or drink as a smoothie. The grated coconut is optional, in case you didn't want the added coconut, which is saturated fat. Coconut water, on the other hand, doesn't contain fat from the coconut 'flesh'.

Instead of amaranth any other cooked grain can be added to a smoothie, but the goal is to use a grain that's low on the glycemic index, that is that doesn't quickly turn to sugar in your bloodstream, and amaranth is on various lists as a super food. You also may wish to check out the Forbes article on amaranth as a super food. See, "Rediscovering Amaranth, The Aztec Superfood." Or, on another note, regarding vegetarian foods, you may want to take a look at, "Vegetarian Diets for Seniors."

The Forbes article describes amaranth as a tiny, fast-cooking grain that doesn’t require soaking, amaranth is gluten free, contains more essential amino acids than any other plant source (lysine in particular), has been shown in lab tests to reduce cholesterol, is second only to quinoa as a plant-based iron source, is reportedly the only grain to include vitamin C and is remarkably high in protein. Besides smoothies, you also can fluff cooked amaranth and toss it in a salad with cooked quinoa, greens, red bell peppers, celery, chopped red onions, spinach, arugula, cucumbers, tomatoes, or other salad fixings.

That article also adds that the Whole Grains Council, citing a 1993 study by the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama at Guatemala, wrote that, “Using cheese protein as a reference, researchers concluded that the protein in amaranth ‘is among the highest in nutritive quality of vegetable origin and close to those of animal origin products.’”

Another article, "Amaranth: Superfood for Super Health," published in Muscle & Fitness, noted that amaranth is a complete protein. Amaranth seeds also can be ground into flour to bake cakes, breads, crackers, cookies, or other similar foods, or they can be substituted for similar foods like quinoa or brown rice. But amaranth grains are tiny. And amaranth leaves also can replace various greens such as kale.

Amaranth seeds contain three times the amount of calcium other grains have. The calcium in amaranth amounts to about 12% of an adult's daily value, based on a 2,000-calorie diet and a cooked one-cup serving. From a 250-calorie serving, you’ll get nine grams of protein and five grams of fiber.

The tiny grains also have some iron and other minerals. Amaranth has been called a super food. You also can check out the various studies on the health benefits of amaranth. There's also a study showing a possible positive effect in cancer prevention and in reducing inflammation for chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. You may wish to check out the Washington Post article, "Ancient grains can help prevent cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure." That article explains, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, at least half of all grains eaten each day should be whole (that is, intact, ground, cracked or flaked).

For more information on vegan diets for older adults, see, "Vegetarian Diets for Seniors," "Veganism for the Over 60s - The Vegan Society," " Resources for Seniors | Vegetarian Resource Group," or "Vegan Diet -- What You Need to Know -- US News Best Diets."

Please also follow my articles for senior nutrition and diets information and research links at: Or please subscribe (free) to my Senior Nutrition Examiner column or my Sacramento Nutrition Examiner column.

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