Quinoa

Technically a seed cooked in a similar way to rice, quinoa is considered a superfood.

Quinoa is a food that is both old and new; as an ancient staple and a rediscovered foodie favorite. It is a powerhouse of nutrition, flavor and texture and it should be a pantry staple in most kitchens.

This seed - no, it's not a grain - has a rice-like appearance with a fun crunchy texture and slightly nutty flavor. The little tiny disc is actually a seed of a plant in the same family as beets, chard, and spinach. If you know spinach, Swiss chard, and beets, you know some of quinoa's relatives. However, for cooking purposes, one may think of it as a grain, or at least a replacement for grains. These nutritious, amino acid rich seeds are light and fluffy when cooked, with a little snap to it. You'll also find quinoa in a variety of beautiful colors such as gold, red, and even black. Once called the Gold of the Incas, quinoa is well on its way to becoming revered all over the world.

History

While relatively new to the occidental market, quinoa has been cultivated in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia for over 50 centuries - that's right, centuries - and is a staple food in their diets. The Incas considered quinoa a sacred food and referred to it as the "mother seed,” which is why we often refer to it as “Gold of the Incas.”

When Spanish conquistadors were trying to gain control of the South American indigenous people, they destroyed the fields in which quinoa was grown, and outlawed the farming and sale of quinoa. In1980, two Americans re-discovered the health and nutrition potential of quinoa and started cultivation in Colorado. Today, quinoa is finding its way into homes and restaurants all over the map.

quinoa is pronounced keen-wah - cook as a grain: most recipes for rice work well with quinoa

Nutritional value

With just a quick run down of the nutrients in quinoa, it's not hard to see why this food is considered one of the best super foods in the world. Quinoa is a good source of protein, but not just any protein. The protein quinoa supplies the body is complete protein, supplying all nine essential amino acids. This fact alone makes quinoa the perfect super food choice for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone concerned about getting a healthy dose of protein in their diet. Quinoa is especially rich in lysine, the amino acid that is essential for healthy tissue growth as well as repair.

We can start with a few basics you will recognize right away. Besides being a complete protein, quinoa is loaded with dietary fiber, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. Magnesium is abundant in quinoa. Known to be beneficial for relaxing blood vessels, magnesium, along with riboflavin, appears to benefit those who suffer from headaches, even migraines. Manganese joins with copper to form an enzyme which guards against cell damage caused by free radicals.

  • The health benefits gained from including quinoa in your diet include helping reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cataracts, and gallstones. For pregnant women, quinoa is a great way to increase iron intake naturally, which is important for baby's healthy development.
  • Because quinoa is lower in carbohydrates than other grains, many people substitute quinoa for grains because it is a very filling food that releases its energy slowly throughout the body, to satisfy your appetite longer. This is a great way to stay on a weight loss program without starving.
  • No matter what kind of quinoa you decide to eat, your family will be getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals as well as a great complete protein.

One of the most highly valued aspects of quinoa for many people is it is gluten free. Those looking for alternatives for wheat and other gluten foods can turn to quinoa in several forms to replace the gluten in their diets. If you are eating a gluten-free diet, this is a wonderful new food to discover. Because quinoa is gluten-free, and has many of the same characteristics of grains and rice, there are numerous ways to use quinoa in your recipes.

Preparation and cooking

The quinoa seeds are naturally covered by a saponin residue that is bitter to the palate. This is one defense mechanism the plant has to fend off the occasional passing critter that wants a snack. While commercial cultivation processes remove much of the saponin that coats the seed, it is still a good idea to rinse the seeds in cold water to make sure the process is complete. However, there are many brands that are pre-rinsed. Raw quinoa is most often bought pre-rinsed and you may not need further action - use your own judgment - and if it isn't, rinse it in a colander lined with cheesecloth.

Once you have the quinoa rinsed, bring a pot of one part quinoa and two parts water to a boil, cover, and simmer slowly for fifteen minutes, or until the the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender. If you want to keep more of the natural nutty flavor, you can dry roast the seeds before cooking them. Put the quinoa in a skillet over medium heat and toss, just until the quinoa becomes fragrant. Quinoa is cooked similar to rice; usually a 2 to 1, water to quinoa ratio. Cooked quinoa has a nice light texture and a mild, slightly crunchy and nutty flavor.

Whether you like quinoa hot or cold, you can put this versatile ingredient into a salad or in a soup. You can also form your cooked quinoa into patties with a variety of ingredients. Go ahead and add cooked quinoa to your favorite pancake or muffin recipe for a brand-new take on healthy eating. Once cooked, you can use quinoa in many pilaf dishes, adding vegetables, stocks, and seasonings to taste. Just try substituting quinoa into any of your recipes that call for rice and see how you like it. Quinoa also makes a nice fluffy side dish all by itself. Add herbs and seasonings if you like and spoon alongside chicken, fish, or meat for a tasty side dish with great crunchy texture.

Another favorite way to serve quinoa is cold in salads. Add sweet corn kernels, spring onions, kidney beans, green bell pepper, and celery into a bowl of cooked and cooled quinoa, toss, and you have a light salad that's full of flavor. Mix in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing for even more pizzazz.

Quinoa can be served at any meal, and is available in several forms, even flour. For breakfast, you can serve quinoa with berries, nuts, and milk as a cereal. The flour can be used for baking along with whole grain wheat or as a substitute. Serve quinoa for dessert in puddings, cookies or cupcakes. Fitting quinoa into your healthy diet is not at all difficult with all these choices.

Once you include quinoa in your diet, you'll be looking for all sorts of ways to serve it. It won't be hard to find! This is a very versatile super food that deserves a spot in your pantry.

Raw quinoa and a fork

Quinoa, raw

Cooked quinoa and a fork.