An ancient grain is getting a modern boost from the United Nations, which has named 2013 International Year of Quinoa.

Most quinoa is still farmed in the Andes, but it can be grown farther afield — even in Canada.

Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids and is protein-rich, gluten-free, and easily digestible. It can be toasted, like popcorn, or cooked in water, like rice.

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Quinoa, seen here in a green salad, is being recognized by the United Nations in 2013 for its nutritional, economic, environmental and cultural properties. (CBC)

The popularity of this Andean superfood is exploding in developed nations, which is great for export farmers in Bolivia and Peru, but not so great for the people in those countries, who can no longer afford it on the international market. The price of quinoa has increased five times over the past decade, even as production has gone up ten fold.

In its declaration, the United Nations General Assembly noted that the indigenous people of the Andes have "maintained, controlled, protected and preserved quinoa in its natural state" for generations "through their traditional knowledge and practices of living well, in harmony with nature."

With files from the CBC's Bob Nixon