Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is not a grain but a seed. It is one of the least problem-causing “grains,” and can be tolerated by most gluten sensitive individuals.
Quinoa is the seed of an herbaceous plant related to spinach and Swiss chard. The most popular seeds are a tan or yellow color. There are several other varieties and colors though including black, red, orange, pink and purple. Quinoa has a rich nutty flavor with a tasty crunch.
History of Quinoa
One of the ancient staple foods of the Incas, quinoa was called “The Mother Grain”. The Aztecs believed quinoa would give their soldiers stamina and strength. For more than 3000 years this remained true. Then the Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America and burned the quinoa fields. The cultivation and harvesting of quinoa became a criminal act, punishable by death. It wasn’t until the 1980’s when travelers from Colorado rediscovered quinoa’s tasty nutritious seed, brought it back to the United States for cultivation, and quinoa’s popularity began anew. .
The Health Benefits of Quinoa
Quinoa has the highest protein content of any “grain”. It has more calcium than milk. It is also the “grain” with the highest fat content, making it a well-rounded food. It is a very good source of iron, phosphorous, B vitamins, and vitamin E. Quinoa is a great plant-based protein because it is complete, having all nine of the essential amino acids needed by the body.
Quinoa is high in Vitamins B2 and E. It is an excellent source of dietary iron – a mineral that is essential in producing energy in the body. Other minerals found in this seed are calcium, phosphorous, copper, potassium, manganese and zinc. Quinoa is also high in fiber. This tiny seed is extremely nutrient dense, as well as versatile.
How To Prepare and Eat Quinoa
Quinoa is naturally covered with saponins (a soapy substance) that should be washed off before preparation. This seed also has phytic acid around its shell. Phytic acid binds to minerals in the body and carries them out, which can be a problem if too much phytic acid is consumed (see previous post).
Whether you soak, ferment or sprout quinoa, it can be prepared much like you prepare rice. Quinoa can be prepared like a cereal or rice, or used in combination with other grains. It can be added to soups and stews. Quinoa can be a breakfast with coconut milk, cinnamon, and dried fruit. It can be ground into flour to use in baking breads and cakes. Add quinoa to salads with chopped dried apricots and toasted pumpkin seeds. Bring to a boil, then simmer 1 part grain to 2 parts water or stock in a saucepan for about 20 minutes.
If you haven’t taken the chance to diversify your “grains”, I highly recommend you give quinoa a try. This versatile, nutrient dense seed will amaze you.
(Sources: The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods; 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth; The World’s Healthiest Foods.)