Quick Introduction to Quinoa

Image by StephanieFrey
Image by StephanieFrey

Healthy eating is one of my passions. As a result, I am always looking for healthy foods – that also taste good.  About a year ago, I discovered quinoa – a strange looking seed with a name I didn’t know how to pronounce that could be used in a surprising number of dishes. And . . . so, began my love affair with this incredible food.

If you have not already discovered quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), now is the time! It is one of the most complete and healthy foods available. It is easy to prepare, extremely versatile, and filled with nutrients, flavor, and has a wonderful texture.

It was a staple food in ancient times and is now a foodie favorite served in the best restaurants around the globe. Unless you have been living in a cave, you have probably at least heard of it.

Let’s take a look at this amazing food and find out why it is so popular.

What Is It?

At first glance, you may think it is a grain, but it is not. It is actually a plant seed in the Goosefoot Family (Chenopodiaceae), which also includes spinach, beets and chard.

These flat disc-shaped amino-acid-rich seeds are loaded with nutrition. When cooked they are light and fluffy with a soft crunch, which makes them a great substitute for rice. These nutritious little seeds are light and fluffy when cooked and come in a variety of colors (gold, red, and even black).

A Long History

Quinoa dates back 3,000 to 4,000 years when it was a staple food in the Andean region of Bolivia, Peru and Colombia where it was referred to as the “mother grain.” Because it is a complete protein source plus other nutrients, it has been nicknamed “Food for the Gods.”

Unfortunately, Spanish conquistadors in their ignorance destroyed the quinoa fields in an effort to control the indigenous people. They also made farming and sale of quinoa illegal.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the nutritional and health potential of quinoa was re-discovered in Colorado where crops were once again planted. During the last 30+ years it has grown in popularity and is now readily available  all over the world.

The Mother Grain

In spite of its tiny size, it is a complete protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. It also contains manganese, magnesium, folate, phosphorus, and finally – lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. Those minerals have also been found helpful for people who live with migraines, diabetes, and atherosclerosis (which puts you at risk for heart attack).

In addition to all of the above, it is gluten free. For those who are searching for alternative foods for wheat and other gluten foods, quinoa is an excellent choice and it comes in several forms (seeds, flakes, and flour).

Cooking Quinoa

  • Commercial cultivation processes remove most of the saponin that coats the seeds – a good thing since the coating is bitter. But, we still recommend that you rinse the seeds thoroughly before cooking to remove any residue.
  • Place the rinsed quinoa in water (1:2) and bring to a boil. Then, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender.
  • Some like to dry roast the seeds before boiling to preserve the natural nutty flavor. To roast: Toss in a heavy skillet over medium heat until the quinoa becomes fragrant.

Serving Options

  • Quinoa can be eaten hot or cold – in salads or soups.
  • In can be used as a side dish in a variety of forms.
  • Add it to your baked goods for healthier snacks.
  • Cooked quinoa can be formed into patties with onions, garlic, chopped veggies, etc. Use your imagination.
  • Add cooked quinoa to pancakes and muffins (one of my favorites) – a tasty and easy way to add protein to typically non-protein dishes and start a new wave of healthier eating.

It doesn’t matter your reason for exploring the possibilities of this amazing food – whether it is the need for a gluten-free alternative to grains or because you are a foodie who likes new food adventures – especially when nutrients are part of the package.

Give it a try . . . you will be surprised and happy with the results, I promise.

More to come on quinoa, be sure to join us.