The name quinoa, pronounced ‘keen wah’ seems to be everywhere at the moment, but I for one had no idea what anyone was talking about! Is it rice? Couscous? Flour? All I knew was it was some kind of grain that is supposed to be very high in protein, so I did some investigating and was amazed to find out Quinoa is so much more than that! In fact, it’s not even a grain, it is actually a seed.
Quinoa is a gluten free, seed with a mild flavour and light crunch, which looks a bit like couscous. That’s right, completely gluten free! For those of you out there who struggle to find a reasonably priced gluten free substitute for your everyday grains, quinoa might be the answer for you. This versatile grainy crop comes in several varieties, with a whole grain white, red and black quinoa, with the white variety often being milled down into gluten free flour.
Quinoa is native to Bolivia and falls within the family Amaranthaceae which believe it or not is a close relative of swiss chard, spinach and even beets. Just 1 cup of this low GI powerhouse contains 8g of protein, 5g of fiber, 15% DV iron, 30% DV magnesium, 19% DV folate and heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. It doesn’t stop there; quinoa is what is known as a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids necessary for good health. Quinoa is particularly rich in lysine, an amino acid that promotes healthy tissue growth throughout the body.
Quinoa seeds have a naturally bitter coating to deter birds that must be soaked off before preparing, however most packaged quinoa are pre soaked, check the label on brands available to you to check. To cook quinoa, cook 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups of water for 5-10 minutes, this will dissolve any of the remaining bitter coating. Drain and rinse thoroughly. Pour the quinoa into a pot and add 1 ½ cups of water and half a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Once boiled, cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, covered, afterwards fluffing it up with a fork the same way you would with couscous.
With the popularity of quinoa growing, there are thousands of recipes available online, serving quinoa as both a side dish, or as the main show. The versatility of quinoa allows it to be used as a baking grain, breakfast cereal, or pretty much served with any other meal imaginable.
Despite its recent popularity, quinoa has been eaten for centuries, most notably by the Inca Empire, referring to it as the “Mother of all grains”, and believed it to be a sacred gift to the people. Having now received superfood status, I’m sure this grainy, seed will be here to stay for many a year to come.