Mar 16, 2017

Why Indians don't need Quinoa?

There have been hardly a few times in my life so far, when I spent my late evenings doing data analysis on issues that are important to me. This PDF "Indian Food Composition Tables - 2017" is giving me sleepless nights :-) I decided to research on this latest “super-food” that is imported, has a lot of “food-miles” and a lot expensive.

I switched on FoodFood channel after a long time at my in-laws place and the chef is making a “quinoa” pulao. I went to a supermarket and what do I see adorning the shelves there - yes, you guessed it right - “Quinoa”. This pseudo-grain has become such a rage in the last couple of years among the health and fit community of urban India. Most popular food bloggers have atleast one recipe using quinoa in their respective blogs/Instagram pictures. “Why this Kolaveri” towards quinoa - I don’t know about the nation but I certainly wanted to know ;-)

When I googled to find out what’s so special about quinoa, most of the websites talk about how quinoa is a “complete protein” - which means it has all the 9 essential amino acids our body needs.

I browsed through the amino acid profile of various grains and lentils. Here’s a summary:

*In the table above, replace kodo millet with foxtail millet. Thanks Dwiji for pointing it out. The IFCT table has an error in mentioning the local name.

1) As you can see, the amino acid values in green colour belong to the grains/pulses that are higher than that of quinoa. The amino acid values in pink colour belong to the grains/pulses that are lower than that of quinoa.
2) Among the grains, Kodo millet (Varagu) foxtail millet (thinai) fares much better than quinoa. To compensate for the lesser Histidine and Lysine amino acids, we can easily take the cooked millet with a cowpea / field beans dal to get the complete protein required
3) Most of the grains are lower in lysine but can be easily compensated by taking pulses along with the grains.
4) You don’t need to take all essential amino acids in every single meal. Mix-and-match the different local grains and pulses in a week and you don’t need to worry whether your protein intake is complete or not
5) Most of our Indian meals have both cereal and dal. Choose millets, brown rice or hand-pounded rice over polished white rice. Include a variety of dals in a week.
6) All the local millets and pulses are far less expensive, as compared to the imported quinoa. 500 gm of foxtail millet is around Rs.50-60 whereas the same quantity of quinoa is in the range of Rs.400-600. It has a higher cost on the environment too. Though there has been news that some farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand are cultivating quinoa, the current demand is mainly catered through imports.

It is okay to try out quinoa to see what the hype is all about but let’s not include it in our weekly / monthly grocery list. It is neither good for our local farmers nor for our environment. Frankly, it is an unnecessary expense and you can spend the same money elsewhere on more productive causes.

P.S. I'm not sure if the "Total" column would make sense in this analysis. Will figure out more before I comment on it.

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