Quinoa is consumed as a grain but it is technically not in that category. It shares family traits with spinach, swiss chard and beets and is considered by some to be a “pseudo-cereal.”
It is a gluten free grain but does contain oxalates (like its other family members) so for those avoiding oxalates it is not a good choice.
Characteristics of Quinoa
Quinoa is a grain that is high in protein and it is one of the few grains that is a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids with phytonutrients and minerals as well.
Quinoa Nutritional Facts:
- It is a good source of manganese with 43% of the daily value of this micronutrient.
- It contains more calcium than whole wheat or milk.
- Recent studies are also showing that quinoa has anti-inflammatory phytonutrients which can work to help combat inflammatory diseases.
- It contains small amounts of omega 3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid.
Quinoa comes in several colors. Most common is the white quinoa but there is also black quinoa and red quinoa. Sometime the three are sold together as a tri-color mixture.
Quinoa should be stored in an airtight container for three to six months. It will keep longer if in the refrigerator.
How to Prepare Quinoa
Quinoa is best known as a cooked grain. After soaking (see below) it can be cooked in water in a 1:2 ratio. Bring to a boil and then cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes.
Use Quinoa In Place Of:
- Bulgar wheat
- Or in similar recipes (such as the one at the end of this article)
Quinoa can also be ground into flour or purchased as flour and used in gluten free baking. It has a slightly sour aftertaste so works well for foods like English Muffins and breads.
Thoughts to Consider About Quinoa
So with all that it should be a no-brainer about incorporating more quinoa into your diet, right? Well maybe not so fast.
The Price of Quinoa
There are a couple downside to quinoa. One is the price as a pound of quinoa can range from $3 to 10/lb. Although if you are using it as a meat substitute that isn’t too bad. The other issue that needs to be raised is the ethics of eating quinoa.
Most quinoa is grown and harvested in South America and has long been a staple food for the native peoples there. Now that there is a large demand for it in 1st world countries like the USA many farmers are choosing to sell their quinoa overseas and try to reap more of the price benefits.
The Social Impact of Importing Quinoa
Peru is the largest producer of quinoa with Bolivia a close second. The quinoa grows well in the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains. This leaves the native peoples with perhaps a bit more money but without their staple food crop to eat and so they are turning to more processed foods and losing the good nutrient base of the quinoa they have been used to.
There is a small amount of quinoa that is now being grown in the US in the Rocky Mountains in particular. Be aware that there are ethical questions which each person needs to answer before quinoa is made a regular part of one’s diet.
Stomach Aches Associated with Quinoa
The third issue is that some people get stomach aches from eating quinoa and the issues seems to be something called saponin which is a naturally occurring, pesticide-like, soapy residue. To get rid of this the quinoa must be rinsed beyond where the water runs clear.
My favorite recipe for quinoa is from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks (great website by the way). I’ve included it here and added my own adaptations. It is so well liked at my house that my son requested it with the green beans for his 11th birthday.
2 cups white quinoa, rinsed well
4 scant cups water
1 teaspoon salt
a few splashes of extra virgin olive oil
3 - 4 medium/large potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large yellow onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup toasted nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, etc)
1-2 cups cooked vegetables. My favorites are green beans or kale. Could use asparagus, spinach, or
another splash or two of good olive oil
- Bring the quinoa, water and salt to a boil in a large pot. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the quinoa opens up and is soft and pleasant to chew. If there is any remaining liquid at this point, drain it off and set the quinoa aside.
- Heat olive oil in the skillet and add potatoes and a couple pinches of salt. Stir to coat the potatoes and cover for a few minutes to allow the insides of the potatoes to sweat and cook. Uncover, stir again, then cook a few minutes longer uncovered until the potatoes start to get some color. Continue stirring until cooked through and crispy, Season to taste with salt and scoop out onto a plate. Set aside.
- In the same skillet heat another splash of oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes or until they soften up a bit.
- Toss the quinoa with a splash of olive oil. Serve each bowl of quinoa topped with potatoes, onions, nuts and vegetables.
Recipe adapted from Delicious Big Bowl Quinoa.
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