Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a type of edible seed that comes in various colors including black, red, yellow, and white. The plant has been cultivated for about 5000 years and is indigenous to the Andean region of South America, specifically Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru. After the seeds are harvested they undergo processing to remove the natural saponins, a bitter-tasting chemical compound coating the exterior that acts as a natural pesticide.
Quinoa is usually harvested by hand due to the differing levels of maturity of the seeds even within one plant. Therefore seed losses may occur if mechanically harvested. However, in the U.S., seed varieties that have a more consistent maturity are selected to allow for mechanical processing.
Quinoa and Health
- Though technically a seed, Quinoa is classified as a whole grain and is a good source of plant protein and fiber. One cup cooked provides about 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Unlike some plant proteins, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make on their own.
- Quinoa is also naturally gluten-free and can be eaten safely if one has gluten intolerance such as celiac disease.
- Packaged quinoa is usually pre-rinsed but some brands may advise rinsing before cooking to remove any remaining saponins. Use a fine mesh strainer to catch the small seeds and run the quinoa under cool water for a few passes.
- Quinoa is prepared similarly to rice using two parts liquid to one part dry quinoa. One cup of dry quinoa will yield 3 cups cooked, and can be prepared in water, stock, or other liquids. You may also add herbs or spices during cooking such as bay leaves, marjoram, thyme, black pepper, or garlic or onion powder.
- Add the seeds, liquid, and desired herbs to a pot and bring to a boil on high heat. When a rolling boil is reached, reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until tender. You may notice a little white “tail” unfold when it is fully cooked; this is the nutritious germ. Fluff with a fork. If the quinoa is too wet or you prefer a drier quinoa, drain the cooked quinoa in a strainer and return to the pot. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes to dry out further.
- For easier cooking, quinoa can be prepared in a rice cooker with the same ratio of 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water.
- Prepare as a breakfast cereal by cooking the quinoa in milk or water. Stir in diced fresh fruit, cinnamon, and a tablespoon of nuts.
- Substitute quinoa in place of rice in stir-fries and sushi.
- Add a half to one cup of cooked quinoa to salads or soups for more heartiness.
- Replace pasta with quinoa in pasta salad recipes.
- Pop quinoa similarly to popcorn. Place a 6-inch deep pot over medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, add enough quinoa to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer. Turn the heat to medium, then cover and shake the pot to ensure a more even temperature and less burnt seeds. Open the lid slightly a few times to allow steam to escape. Continue shaking the pan until popping slows or you smell burning. Pour the grains onto a baking sheet to cool. Season as desired.
More recipe ideas and serving suggestions featuring quinoa:
Did You Know?
- There are more than 120 known varieties of quinoa. White and yellow quinoa have the mildest flavor, so they are good varieties to try first. Red and black quinoa have slightly stronger, earthier flavors and tend to hold their shape better than lighter colored quinoa.
- The Whole (Grain) is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
- David Ludwig clears up carbohydrate confusion
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