Can we call quinoa a grain? Why do people care? Where did all these geese feet come from, and what does Ban Ki-moon have to do with it? On long winter runs, Katherine’s mind wanders over such questions.
In the final two months of 2012, questions about quinoa and its status as a “grain” came up three separate times within my earshot. This was odd in itself, but it launched a cascade of coincidences. On a run near the baylands, my mind was idling back over those conversations, when I noticed for the first time a little weed along the trail, looking much like one of quinoa’s relatives, a saltbush. (The crushed specimen I carried home in my shoe laces keyed out as Atriplex semibaccata, Australian saltbush.) There is also a gorgeous and much larger saltbush species along the trail, and yet another relative, an edible Salicornia species (“sea beans”) that fills the marshy areas next to the bay. Along with quinoa, spinach, beets, and chard, all of these species belong to the (former) goosefoot family – the Chenopodiaceae – which is now considered a branch nested within the Amaranth family. Quinoa is a central member of this old family, belonging in the namesake genus Chenopodium. Continue reading