Gef got in touch with Chris Kneale of Isle of Man Quinoa.
For those who don’t know, what is Quinoa?
Quinoa or Keen-wha is a small grain that when prepared has a fluffy texture and an excellent alternative to rice or couscous.
It is highly regarded as a complete protein, a “super food”, containing 8 essential amino acids that contains a high amount of dietary fibre, gluten-free and is easy to digest.
Quite often you see it in shops and looks white – this has been polished to remove the outer coating, Manx quinoa has a natural appearance, as the only treatment it’s received is cleaning and drying.
Where did the idea of producing Manx grown quinoa originate?
Both James and I are predominantly involved in beef and sheep farming with some cropping – James grows grain for animal feed, and my family have been growing vegetables for years. I was looking into diversification crops and hit upon Quinoa.
How has a grain native to Peru and Bolivia managed to be grown on the Isle of Man?!
Potatoes are native to South America and chips, cheese and gravy is now regarded as Manx staple food!
Quinoa has been grown as a bird cover crop for years in the UK, but it was limited for the food market due to the traditional South American Quinoa having a high saponin content. This is a coating on the grain which makes it taste bitter and without lots of washing and processing could upset digestion.
Advances in plant breeding has reduced the saponin content making it more palatable, and selecting varieties that are more suitable to our climate has allowed Quinoa to be grown in the northern hemisphere, well suited for human consumption.
Did you trial it first and how long has this been in the planning?
I guess this is the trial! I have been looking into the potential of Manx grown Quinoa for a year or so and in Early Spring of 2017, DEFA organised a speaker to visit Manx Farmers to deliver a talk on ‘alternative crops’.
I took the opportunity to quiz him on the potential and then spoke with Andrew Lees, the DEFA Food Business Development Manager, about potentially growing quinoa on the Island. Andrew agreed to underwrite the trial, and this gave us the confidence to do a field scale trial.
How did you identify the ideal location for growing?
Knowing that Quinoa originated from South America and that it liked hot and dry conditions – James’ farm in Bride was perfect! We planted the Island’s first crop in April 2017.
When will we be able to buy it?!
After rigorous testing to ensure the Quinoa was acceptable for the Manx food chain, which the Manx Quinoa passed, we are now working hard on sorting our packaging, labelling and distribution! Keep an eye on our Facebook page “Isle of Man Quinoa” for announcement of where Quinoa will be for sale.
Will you be growing more of it, and are you looking into any other unconventional crops for on Island cultivation?
It’s a relatively low yielding crop so yes, we are considering growing a larger area this year. Its difficult to know how popular Manx Quinoa will be as its taken a lot effort to get it the point of sale – more than we imagined! We will probably have to have the 2018 crop in the ground before we get a true idea of whether it’s going to be successful or not!
I have a couple of other crops I am looking into, but we can’t forget the regular day jobs and for the moment, we are concentrating on getting Manx Quinoa in front of the Manx consumer.