Quinoa

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.

Common Name: Quinoa

(chenopodium quinoa)
Amaranthaceae

 

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.

The Quinoa Quiz

There may be over 100 varieties of quinoa, but the three main types of quinoa sold commercially are what we need to learn about here. Each has its own characteristics that makes it completely unique from the others. Let's take a bite out of each of these different varieties and see where it takes us.

Gold - The gold, or cream colored quinoa, is generally the most common variety. Not only can you find it abundantly in the stores, but it also has the most “typical” taste. As it is the most common type of quinoa, the other forms of quinoa are compared using this point of reference. One of the most familiar aspects of the gold quinoa is that it tends to keep its cream color and is a bit fluffier, lighter, and creamier than the other varieties. It has a texture that mixes well with many foods and is easily incorporated into baked goods. Gold quinoa is used hot in main dishes and side dishes, and cold in salad. Because of its tender, light texture, gold quinoa is a favorite as a breakfast cereal as it easily mixes well with milk for a hot oatmeal substitute. Think about how you often see rice or couscous used in dishes and gold quinoa can be used in much the same way.

Red - Red quinoa has a slightly crunchier texture than the gold quinoa and has a bit sharper, or even some would say a bitter taste. There is a nutritional difference between varieties as the red quinoa is found to be higher in protein and calories with three grams more fiber per serving than its golden counterpart. Besides the nutritional differences, there is a big “wow” factor in red quinoa, with the color and the texture. Not only does the flavor stand out, but the color becomes a feast of the eyes. Pairing red quinoa with fresh fruit and vibrant vegetables is a great way to make your dish stand out from the crowd. Because of the slightly increased bitter taste, red quinoa goes well with foods like butternut squash and avocado. Even some cheeses, especially those with a soft texture, pair well because the snappy red quinoa compliments the rich creamy cheese so well. Because of the texture, red quinoa can often be used as a substitute for ground or finely chopped nuts, such as to top a salad.

Black - Black quinoa, while still one of the more rare commercial forms of quinoa, is still not entirely unknown. The reason you do not find black quinoa on the shelves very often is that it is only grown in difficult climates and cannot be produced in large quantities. The black color is not only rare, but has an exotic appeal. Black quinoa leans toward a subtly sweet flavor and has a crispier texture, similar to the red quinoa, but even more so. The exotic look and firm texture of black quinoa does great standing up against citrus and other fruits. Consider an Asian pear salad with black quinoa; the black and white coloring alone is intriguing, but the flavors are just as amazing. Black quinoa often comes out of harsh environments, it is a sturdy variety. You can hardly over cook it. It won't disappear into mush and it stands up to long baking times. It's a less fluffy variety and maintains its crisp, grainy, almost nutty texture in any dish. Black quinoa almost demands a dish with many layers of flavor and textures.

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.

Quinoa 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 judgement - 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.

Quinoa - chenopodium quinoa - quinoa, red quinoa.