Grow Your Own Protein - Quinoa

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag

Quinoa meal

Livestock agriculture contributes 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.  This fact was thrust into the media’s attention earlier this week when Lord Stern, the author of the influential Stern Review on the costs of tackling global warming, declared that people will need to reduce their consumption of meat if we are to take climate change targets seriously.  Whatever your views on this statement, it is clear that home-grown produce is the best source of food if we are to reduce our carbon footprint.  Yet the question in many people’s minds is whether a plant-based diet can meet our nutritional requirements for protein?  With less livestock would it be feasible to grow everything required for a well-balanced diet?

In fact, the idea that plants do not provide good sources of protein is largely an outdated myth.  It is true that many of our staple plant foods do not contain such concentrations of protein as meat.  However, a balanced diet of vegetables, coupled with grains, nuts, seeds or legumes gives ample protein for optimal health.  It is only when the majority of foods we eat are highly processed, rather than a range of whole-foods, that the protein and nutritional balance suffers.

Quinoa plant

However, not all plants are nutritionally equal.  There are some plant foods that are particularly good as sources of protein and, surprisingly, they can be grown in a variety of climates.  I had always been under the impression that the best vegetable protein sources were soy and pulses such as lentils, which are difficult to grow in England.  So I was delighted to find the Real Seed Catalogue listing high-protein grains such as Quinoa suitable for our climate and set out to grow some this year.

Quinoa is remarkable – an ancient plant that has been called ‘the gold of the Incas’ due to its origins in South America.  Although usually thought of as a grain, it is actually related to the spinach, chard and beet family (Chenopodium).  It is a complete source of protein (all the essential amino acids) and has an impressive list of health-giving properties.  Better still, it is very easy to use – the grains are slightly larger than couscous and are cooked in a similar way to rice, with little spirals of white germ appearing as they expand.  It goes well with most meals you would traditionally serve with rice such as curries, stews and tagines.

Growing quinoa was easier than I expected.  I started the seeds off in small pots and then planted them out in late May.  Unlike common grains like wheat, just a few plants are required and are spaced 2 feet apart.  By the start of August they were approaching 6 feet tall and needed staking to prevent them flopping over in high winds.  I chose the ‘rainbow’ variety and sure enough the seed heads started to be tinged with red, amber and green by September.  Keeping an eye out for the first fallen seeds proved to be the best way to tell when they were ready for harvest.

Sieving quinoa seeds
Separating quinoa seeds from the plant by using a wide soil sieve

Processing the grains was more tricky.  I followed the online instructions to rub the plant heads over a soil sieve which gets most of the grain out, along with some little bits of plant falling through.  I left this to dry out for a day or two and then set about the biblical process of winnowing the seed from the chaff!  This was much harder than it looked and involved pouring the seed onto a cloth on a windy day so that the little plant bits were blown further away than the grain and repeating the process 3 or 4 times.  In the end I had to pick out some bits and accept that about 15% of the grain was never going to get separated.

Commercially produced quinoa must be processed very thoroughly because when I cooked it there was a noticeable bitterness to the water which comes from the saponins that need to be washed off the seed.  By changing the water half way through cooking I was able to eliminate this and the results were excellent.  Quinoa expands more than rice, so you need less of it for a good meal.  From my five plants I harvested about 700g (1.5lb) of uncooked quinoa – enough for a good portion for about 10 people - but I think this could be increased with practice at the processing stage.

Was it worth it?  Yes, it was very satisfying to know that this amazing grain could be grown by me at home.  Would I grow it again?  If I had more space then I would certainly consider it and I may well try some other quinoa varieties in the future.  It was resilient, pest-free and low-maintenance – perfect for locations that are not ideal for other plants.  Most importantly it passed the taste test, not only for me but when served up to guests as well.  It may not be the whole solution to greenhouse gases from livestock but it was a very interesting experiment.  Quinoa certainly deserves more attention as a promising protein of the future passed down from the ancient Incas of South America.

Please do add a comment if you have grown grains, nuts, seeds etc...  and I may add details of another grain, amaranth, later in the year when I have finished harvesting it.

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Comments

 
"I am very impressed (and interested) that you tried this out. I like the idea of trying to grow all that we need to survive."
Gaynor Valentine on Sunday 1 November 2009
"I love quinoa, too, and wanted to add that it's not just the home grown version that needs to be rinsed several times to remove the bitterness. Before cooking quinoa purchased at the store, I spend several minutes rinsing the seeds in cool water. After that, the quinoa is as easy to cook as pasta, and can be substituted for pasta or rice in any dish."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 2 November 2009
"I have heard, that instead of 'winnowing' it is easier to pour the unseperated harvest into water. In the water, the seed will mostly sink and the bits of plant mostly will float. I haven't tried this myself though."
Rob Abrams on Wednesday 20 January 2010
"Rob, thanks for the suggestion. I found that some quinoa grains float, so I needed to do some traditional winnowing first. However, I did 'skim off' any remaining chaff when I was cooking it which is like what you mention. For me extracting the grain and winnowing it was the bit that puts me off growing it again - if I could find an easier way to process it then I think I would grow it every year."
Jeremy Dore on Friday 22 January 2010
"Hi Jeremy :-) One of my favourite websites (also with an excellent blog) is called rawforlife.co.uk and it has excellent info. about plant protein. I hope you and others will enjoy it. Best wishes, Lin"
Lin Kennedy on Wednesday 24 February 2010
"Hi Lin, I imagine that you have to sprout quinoa to eat it raw. Have you tried this and, if so, what did it taste like? It seems to me that being a hard grain it might be a bit tricky but I'm interested in the idea."
Jeremy Dore on Friday 26 February 2010
"Hi Jeremy, I haven't tried sprouting grains so far on my new, high raw (vegan) diet although I might give them a go at some point. I've just felt thrilled to pieces recently to find out that the body makes protein from the amino acids found in fruits and vegetables, and doesn't require protein in any other form contrary to the advice of conventional nutrition. Being on an animal free diet, this information gives extra peace of mind to know that the body can make protein in the healthiest possible way. I hope that's encouraging, although doesn't bare relation to the quinoa exactly. Best wishes, Lin "
Lin on Friday 26 February 2010
"The young leaves make an excellent salad crop whilest it is growing up."
Aragorn on Saturday 8 May 2010
"Can someone please tell me if I can grow this in my region of Canada? I live in Willamstown Ontario. Has anyone tried it in my area?"
Susan St Jean on Thursday 7 October 2010
"Susan, Checking the dates given by our Garden Planner for Williamstown Ontario I think you could try it but your growing season is about 6 weeks shorter than mine, so you might need to start the seeds in pots indoors. I would stagger them over a few weeks so you can try out different start times, planting them out from mid May to mid June. If you do try it then let us know if it works for you."
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 9 October 2010
"Hey Canada Quinoa, I live in Peterborough, Ontario and I saw some friends growing Quinoa in a community garden down the road. It had flowered and set fruit wonderfully. It can definately be grown in lots of places. Try planting it from grocery store seed if you dont have any sources around you. "
Ben on Friday 29 October 2010
"Hi Jeremy, great article, and I'm definitely going to try it next year. I already sprout Quinoa; it's quite easy, you can sprout it just like lentils. Taste slightly peppery, no bitterness in the sprouts. If successful at growing the plants I will put on my boffin hat to find the bast way of winnowing..."
Andrew Scales, Ireland on Tuesday 16 November 2010
"Hi Jeremy;I'm from Northern Ontario,Muskoka, cottage country, sandy soil, short growing season.We are 200km north of Toronto. I am so excited about growing quinoa this spring, imagining my yard full of "rainbow" and "redhead" varieties.Where can I buy seed and what type of soil should I use when I start the seeds indoors? I love this stuff!!! I have collected tons of great recipes! Judy B.- Muskoka,Ontario "
Judy Blake on Monday 29 November 2010
"Hi Judy, I'm not sure where you can source quinoa seed from in Canada. I got mine in the UK from www.realseeds.co.uk but I'm sure there will be some place you can get it more locally (though I've checked the Canadian seed suppliers I know about without success). It might be worth phoning West Coast Seeds and asking if they know of a supplier. For starting the seed off I just used a regular good seed potting soil - I like an organic one with coir in but I think quinoa's not too fussy. Good luck!"
Jeremy Dore on Tuesday 30 November 2010
"Judy, I know Salt Springs Seeds in BC sells quinoa (saltspringsseeds.com) and there may be other sources. Mother Earth News hosts an online Seed and Plant Finder that simplifies the search: http://www.motherearthnews.com/find-seeds-plants.aspx"
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 30 November 2010
"Is anyone growing quinoa commercially in Texas?"
Julie on Sunday 20 February 2011
"Health food shops often sell sproutable seeds, that's where I got mine. Sometimes quinoa is part of a sprouting seed mixture, but it is easy enough to separate out enough to start off your own plants."
Andrew on Thursday 24 February 2011
"Here's a design for a DIY winnowing machine that uses a vacuum cleaner! http://www.buzz.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/winnow.htm Would love to see a photo of one actually produced! "
Miranda on Thursday 10 March 2011
"Interesting, Miranda. I wonder whether it would work for quinoa where the grains are much smaller than parrot seed in the example?"
Jeremy Dore on Thursday 10 March 2011
"Ah. That's a shame. Was hoping for a nice shortcut!"
Miranda on Thursday 10 March 2011
"Hi all. I have just bought two varieities of Quinoa from Realseeds; "Rainbow" and "Temuco". I am going to give it an experimental go in a mixed crop with sweetcorn and globe artichokes on the fringes and a few lettuce dotted among them as ground cover decoy plants for the local rodents (an idea I got from pioneering Austrian organic farmer Sepp Holzer. Link to an explanatory video "Farming with nature" here; http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6656144440632078205) Miranda and Jeremy, upon further examination of the winnowing machine link, i notice that it says; "This is a design for a winnowing machine capable of cleaning any of the seed commonly used in bird keeping" ad comes from a site chiefly concerned with budgerigars. Millet forms the bulk of captive budgerigar diet and is virtually the same size as the Quinoa seeds that I have just received from Realseeds. I am certainly going to investigate the machine further, there is a contact listed for the machine`s designer (a budgerigar keeper)on the link. Warmly, Peter"
Peter on Wednesday 18 April 2012
"Enjoying reading all the info--I've just started doing research re growing quinoa in SE TX"
Jane Theiler on Saturday 26 May 2012
"I am concerned re what I've read re the the high carb count in quinoa"
Jane Theiler on Saturday 26 May 2012
"The human, species-specific diet is high-carbohydrate plant foods. Have a look at foodnsport.com or all the raw food youtube channels by searching natureasintended's channel. "
Lin on Saturday 26 May 2012
"After quinoa has been harvested does it need to be replanted, or will it reblossom?"
Abby and Annette on Saturday 21 July 2012
"Pretty good article except for the opening paragraph. The blanket statement about animals leaves out an important aspect of raising livestock for meat. The industrial model is the problem and not the livestock. How they are raised and fed is the problem. Feeding any high carbohydrate grain (corn) is what makes cattle produce methane. That is a fact that is easily researched for those not well versed in ruminant nutrition. Cattle can't digest the carbohydrates in corn. Period. Remove the carbs and cattle can thrive on corn. Interesting dilemma in my opinion. I think the clamor created by the environmentalists and the animals rights community overlook nutrient density whether it is intentional or not it is fraudulent. This fact was brought to light when big energy for the most part abandoned ethanol production because it isn't suited to centralized production on a gigantic scale but small farmer owned coops replaced the void and redesigned the ethanol model to better utilize resource management. What was discovered is that using the mash from the ethanol production as cattle feed stopped the digestive issues experienced by cattle. I am not advocating that the continuation of CAFO be expanded or from my perspective even allowed to continue I am only pointing out that the entire premise of this article is suggesting that the only way to feed a burgeoning population is by becoming vegetarians and that just isn't so. It is much more complex and what needs to be examined is balance. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater only demonstrates more foolish ill thought out solutions to a serious problem. I grow Quinoa because I enjoy eating it but I also enjoy eating eggs from pastured chickens as well as those chickens , and meat from my 100% pastured livestock. "
MagicDave on Wednesday 29 August 2012
"This is my first year growing quinoa (BC Canada). Many of the plants are fallen on the ground and the grain is not ready for harvest. I am not sure if I should cut the heads of the fallen plants and let them dry on trays or wait till the heads are ready. Some of the leaves and heads are filling with aphyds. Any suggestion about how to handle this?"
Maria on Wednesday 29 August 2012
"Maria - I found that I had to stake the plants as they grew large to prevent them falling over in the wind. My advice would be to wait until the heads are ready unless the plants have died and the quinoa grains are at risk of rotting. I don't recall having had aphids but I did have a lot of companion planting flowers in the garden to attract beneficial insects that would have eaten aphids anyway. Good luck!"
Jeremy Dore on Saturday 1 September 2012
"I have dried my quinoa too well! Is there any way to separate the seeds from the chaff at this point? Could you email me your answer?"
Anja on Saturday 22 September 2012
"If anyone is interested in making their own seed cleaning machine, we've built one here at Real Seeds - there's plans and a link to a youtube video showing it in action on our website (http://www.realseeds.co.uk/seedcleaner.html) "
Kate McEvoy (Real Seed Catalogue) on Wednesday 14 November 2012
"Anja, as well as winnowing in a gentle breeze, we find that you can remove the majority of the chaff by simply shaking the seeds from side to side in a shallow tray (eg a baking tray). The chaff rises to the top, and you can 'skim' it off by hand. It should be easier to remove the chaff once the seed is really dry, so don't worry that you've dried it too far!"
Kate McEvoy on Wednesday 14 November 2012
"What month did you germinate the seed and what was your preferred method? Did you keep it any specifically heated or unheated?"
Claire Benson on Sunday 18 November 2012
"Claire, quinoa germinates really easily. We generally sow in modules in April or May in an unheated greenhouse. You can sow direct from late April, but the only problem is that the seedlings are pretty much indistinguishable from Fat Hen, and also they are quite attractive to slugs when they're very small. "
Kate McEvoy (Real Seed Catalogue) on Monday 19 November 2012
"I live in the rocky mountains of BC with our home being at 1370 meters. I started three test growths last year and was astounded how it grew at this altitude and how much grain (seeds) grew on each head. This year, we will set out at least 50 plants and enjoy an abundant harvest."
Les Anderson on Wednesday 13 February 2013
"Les, how did your quinoa crop turn out. Being that you live in the mountains and at a decent altitude that is more suited to quinoa, you have to give us some follow up info."
Violet Brikenshaw on Thursday 14 August 2014
" After quinoa is harvested, does it regrow or does it have to be replanted ? "
Rakris on Monday 20 October 2014
"i am interested in growing quinoa in india. would like to know more deatils regarding quinoa farming."
sudarshan on Sunday 23 November 2014
"Hi all, I see this quite an old thread, but I have an issue that I've not seen addressed anywhere, but thought someone here might have the solution. The issue is insects. I threshed out my first bit of quinoa and separated the leaves out of it and the remaining seeds were heaving with livestock of many sorts, mostly very tiny, less than the seed size. I did wonder if the idea is to ignore them and just treat it as extra protein, but can't face that really! Any ideas of how to separate them? I thought if I soaked the seed they'd die but being wet they'd just stick to the seed. Any ideas gratefully received. "
Paul on Tuesday 20 October 2015
"quinoa and amaranth are a good beginners choice for grain growing. I have winnowed Amaranth (Love lies bleeding) this fall.. It's a crop we need to continue to grow at the home garden level. It's worth it. "
Donna on Saturday 31 October 2015
"I've started growing quinoa and amaranth this year. They germinated in just a couple of days. Looking forward to seeing how well they grow in north Wales. Thanks for the useful tips."
Peter McFadden on Sunday 11 June 2017
"Hello from Liverpool, UK. Thanks for this guide. I'm just starting to take an interest in my garden and will be trying to grow some edibles as well as pretty flowers. Definitely going to give quinoa a try :)"
Jamie on Saturday 15 July 2017
"Wow! Can't wait to try this! And, if you think threshing quinoa is tricky, just wait until you try amaranth! The seeds are incredibly tiny. I grew some ancient Hopi quinoa, with black seeds resembling poppy seeds but slightly larger and shiny. We love quinoa and will definitely try growing some next season! :D"
Adelia on Friday 26 October 2018
"Oops! I meant to say we grew Hopi AMARANTH, not quinoa! Sorry! "
Adelia on Friday 26 October 2018

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