Quinoa (keen-wah) is popping up on more American grocery shelves every year. Despite its rather recent introduction into the U.S. food supply, quinoa was “the Mother Grain” in ancient Incan culture over 6,000 years ago. Quinoa played a central role in religious rituals for the Incas and was a staple in their diet. This super plant was able to grow where many other plants couldn’t — in tough soils and harsh climates on top of mountains. Several millennia later, it has been rediscovered as a satisfying, nutritious and versatile seed that has many uses in the modern kitchen.
Nutrition and Health Benefits of Quinoa
While quinoa is technically not a grain, it is consumed and prepared like other grains, and its nutrient profile rivals most other grains. For starters, quinoa is known as a complete protein, which means it contains all 10 essential amino acids. Most grains are considered incomplete proteins, as they lack the amino acid lysine, which is found in higher amounts in legumes (and quinoa!).
One cup of cooked quinoa also contains more protein than an egg and more iron, copper and zinc. It is also a good source of many B vitamins and an excellent source of magnesium, a mineral that most of us do not get nearly enough of in our diets. Some varieties of quinoa also contain the essential fats linoleic acid and linolenic acid.
Nutritional value aside, regular intake of quinoa may also have specific health benefits. For those of us needing to watch our blood sugar, quinoa has a low glycemic index and may have favorable effects on blood sugar. Quinoa is also gluten free and has a protein composition similar to the milk protein casein. This makes it a particularly good choice for those who cannot tolerate gluten and/or lactose. In lab animals, quinoa has been shown to improve memory and reduce anxiety in response to stress.
How to Purchase and Prepare Quinoa
Quinoa is usually found on the shelves with other grains in grocery stores. Visit the bulk bins when you try it for the first time so you can decide exactly how much you’d like to get. In the store, you will find different colors of quinoa available. All are nutritious choices.
When preparing quinoa, make sure to rinse it in cool water, using a strainer, before cooking it. This will remove the bitter taste caused by the protective compounds that coat the outside of the seed. Quinoa only takes about 20 minutes to cook on the stove top. Simply add rinsed quinoa to a saucepan and cover with water by one inch. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently until grains are tender. One cup of dry quinoa will yield about three-to-four cups cooked. For extra flavor, cook quinoa in broth or sauté it with garlic, onion, and spices for a couple of minutes before adding liquid.
Quinoa will keep in the fridge for several days and in the freezer for several months. Make a double batch and add it to salads, soups, casseroles and stir-fries throughout the week. Dinner will come together in a snap!
Mouth-Watering Quinoa Recipes
Quinoa has a mild, nutty flavor. It works well in a variety of dishes and can be eaten for any meal. Try some of these tasty and simple recipes starring quinoa.