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A 28-Year-Old British Guy Is Growing New and Improved Quinoa

Quinoa is becoming as British as the Queen’s corgis, thanks to a 28-year-old dude with a PhD in plant pathology from the Univeristy of Nottingham and a passion for the nutty grain.

by Alex Swerdloff
Aug 31 2015, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Annie

When you think about where quinoa comes from, you would be correct in thinking about Incas in the Andes of South America, as they were the originators of farming and eating the stuff.

But now, quinoa is becoming as British as the Queen's corgis, thanks to a 28-year-old dude with a PhD in plant pathology from the Univeristy of Nottingham and a passion for the nutty pseudograin.

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Stephen Jones has found a way to grow quinoa in Shropshire in the West Midlands of England. After several years of running trials on his family farm, he has discovered a variety of quinoa that is capable of being produced there commercially. And his quinoa is arguably superior to any other variety.

According to The Daily Mail, Jones's company, The British Quinoa Company, is producing a variety of quinoa that can deal with the formidable challenges of the British climate, making it more resilient than the quinoa produced in its native region of South America.

Quinoa—all types—is healthy stuff. It is a good source of everything from magnesium to calcium to vitamin B, but the kicker is that it has twice the protein of grains like barley or rice. This newfangled British quinoa is largely grown without pesticides and is certified organic; plus, Jones's quinoa is said to taste better than traditional varieties.

Here's why: One of the problems is that quinoa grown in South America has to be "polished," through a process that removes the outer husk of the grain, which contains compounds called saponins. Saponins are bitter and create a nasty foam when the grains are boiled (you may have witness this if you've ever cooked non-British quinoa).

But Jones's variety—known as Atlas—is free of saponins. This means no husk removal is necessary, keeping the nutrients in and giving the grain a taste that is reportedly stronger and nuttier.

According to Jones, "Because it is not necessary to remove the outer coating on our quinoa, it retains more of the nutrients. Some quinoa can be bland, but our variety has a much nuttier, pleasant flavour. We had a lot of issues to overcome to find a quinoa that would thrive in our climate, but now we've cracked it." The price of the British quinoa is pretty much the same as the imported stuff.

And it's really taking off in Britain. Eighty tons were produced in the year 2014, and a whopping 800 tons are expected to be produced in 2016. The British Retail Consortium reports that "quinoa" is the third most searched-for food term by smartphone users. And now the huge British chain Pret a Manger, which has outlets in the US, is offering Jones's quinoa in its Korean BBQ Pulled Pork Quinoa Rice Pot and its Sweet Potato and Cauli-Quinoa Rice Pot. Jones also hopes to create quinoa flakes soon for a cereal and quinoa flour.

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Everyone seems to agree that Jones is on to something. But no one in Britain can agree on how to pronounce the name of the grain. We may say "keen-wah" here in the States. But, according to The Daily Mail, Jones prefers the Anglicized option: "kwin-oh-ah."

Really?

That pronunciation could be a problem for one American restaurant chain, BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, which is headquartered in California. It made headlines earlier this summer for publically offering a $10,000 gift card to the first diner who names their baby Quinoa. Apparently, the competition is still open, so maybe you'd like to consider entering the fray. That kind of capitalist merriment, after all, is as American as apple pie.

But we'll eat your British-made stuff, Mr. Jones. It sounds pretty good.