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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Quinoa: What the Ancient Incas contributed to Modern Astronauts

Really once we get to the moon or Mars, survival is all about the food.

Hopefully future astronauts will not be caught up in Matt Damon's plight in the 'Martian' and have to grow their own.

While Damon's potatoes have an Andean origin, the true super food from the altiplano is quinoa.

Ancient cultures knew what was good for them. The Incas made a ceremony of planting the first quinoa of the season with a golden spade. In a 1995 paper, NASA caught up and considers quinoa as a new crop for CELSS, the Controlled Ecological Lifesupport System. It is the perfect in flight snack. 

A "supergrain", the quinoa plant is a complete protein source because it contains a balance of the amino acids required for human health. Among grains, quinoa has the most nutrients per 100 calories.  It provides almost 14 grams of protein per 100 grams of quinoa. It is also one of the trendy "gluten free" foods. Quinoa is a relative of spinach and Swiss chard, so a grain in name only. What we use is actually the seed.

In 2015, Samantha Cristoforetti chose quinoa as a bonus food in her space diet. Watch her prepare a mackerel, quinoa and leek cream tortilla in zero gravity. While mackerel may not be your comfort food, the psychology of eating and enjoying food in space is as important as the calories.

The challenge back on earth is to protect the livelihood of the Andean farmers in Peru and Bolivia so the benefits of quinoa are equally distributed here on earth.  The competition from advanced agricultural countries and the consequences to local populations  of consuming less nutritious foods as quinoa becomes too expensive for them are significant environmental and social costs.

If only the indigenous population could find a moon rock on the lunar landscape of the altiplano these problems and many more would be solved

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