Learn all about the unique qualities, nutrition and health benefits of quinoa, a centuries-old grain that's a true super food! Plus, find out how to cook quinoa properly and get my best quinoa recipes!
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a grain-like crop that has ancient origins. Quinoa has recently been gaining in popularity because of its numerous health benefits. But it’s actually been around for centuries.
Quinoa originated in South America over five thousand years ago. It was so central to the ancient Incan culture that it was referred to as the Mother Grain.
Although quinoa is considered a whole grain, botanically it’s actually a plant with edible leaves that is closely related to beets, spinach, and Swiss chard. However, it is primarily grown for its edible seeds. In nature, the quinoa plant grows 4 to 6 feet high and has many angular branches with large clusters of seeds at the end of each stalk.
Besides the fact that it is tasty and easy to prepare, quinoa is packed with nutrition. It has many unique qualities and health benefits making it a true superfood!
Types of Quinoa
Quinoa has a wide range of colors but only three main varieties are cultivated- white, red, and black. I often buy tricolor quinoa, which is a mixture of the three. Other quinoa products available at the grocery store are quinoa flour, quinoa pasta, and quinoa flakes.
Quinoa is a superfood! Here are come nutrition facts about quinoa:
- It has a very high protein content (about twice the protein of regular cereal grains), which makes it a great source of protein for vegetarians
- It is the only grain that is a complete protein, meaning that it contains a balanced set of all nine essential amino acids
- It is gluten free and easy to digest, which makes it a nice option for people who are gluten intolerant
- It is a good source of dietary fiber
- It is a good source of several vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium
- It contains phytonutrients (plant-based compounds) that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
- It contains small amounts of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid.
Numerous studies have shown that increased dietary fiber is associated with lower rates of coronary artery disease. A 3-year prospective study of 229 postmenopausal women with coronary artery disease, published in the July 2005 issue of the American Heart Journal, showed that those eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week experienced slower progression of coronary atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows the vessels of the heart through which blood flows.
Because of all of its healthy properties, quinoa is a great choice for people with cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. It's also a nice alternative for anyone trying to cut down their intake of refined, processed carbohydrates and include more healthy whole grains in their diet.
How to Cook Quinoa
There's usually no need to rinse quinoa before cooking it. The seeds of the quinoa plant have a bitter coating from chemical compounds called saponins. However, most of the commercially sold quinoa in the U.S. is pre-rinsed to remove this bitterness.
You can cook quinoa just like you cook rice, in water or other liquids such as broth. The great thing is that it cooks quickly- about 10-15 minutes. You can cook it in a pot on the stove or in a rice cooker.
As quinoa cooks, the germ separates from the seed. When it's done, the grain appears soft and translucent, and you'll be able to see the germ ring along the outer edge of the grain.
Quinoa has a fluffy, slightly crunchy texture and a mild, nutty flavor. It takes on different flavors depending on how it's cooked and what it’s mixed with.
Quinoa Recipe Ideas
- Eat it for breakfast- cook quinoa flakes instead of oatmeal and mix with your favorite fruits and nuts
- Cook quinoa in water or broth and mix with vegetables and herbs for a quinoa pilaf
- Make a cold quinoa salad by tossing cooked quinoa with a vinaigrette and grilled or roasted vegetables (and chicken if desired)
- Add quinoa to your favorite soup or stew
- Mix quinoa and fresh herbs to stuff vegetables like bell peppers or squash
- Try it for dessert- make quinoa pudding instead of rice pudding