05/02/2013 04:59 EDT | Updated 07/02/2013 05:12 EDT

Canadian scientists look at whether quinoa and amaranth can grow in Ontario

GUELPH, Ont. - Ontario farmers may be able to grow some crops native to South America as the result of research being conducted on quinoa and amaranth.

Scientists with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada are looking at whether the foods, which have become popular in North America for their gluten-free and nutritional profiles, can be adapted to the Ontario climate, soils and environment.

Rong Cao, a scientist at AAFC’s Guelph Food Research Centre, has been assessing how the environment and genetics affect their nutritional and antioxidant values as part of a project being led by the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association.

"If we can produce quinoa and amaranth in Ontario, it can give local farmers lucrative new crops to grow and give consumers a healthy local product to buy," Cao said Thursday in a release.

He first studied the nutritional value of green and purple amaranth leaves, which are used as a vegetable in many cultures. He found the more highly pigmented purple leaves had higher levels of antioxidants than the green ones. Similar results have been found with quinoa leaves.

Quinoa has a complete essential amino acid profile (amino acids are the building blocks of protein) and has many nutritional benefits. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has declared this year the International Year of Quinoa.

Cao's research will continue for the next two years at the Guelph Food Research Centre, one of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's network of 18 research centres.