What Is Quinoa?

profile on quinoa

If you keep up on the latest superfoods, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of quinoa. Pronounced “keen-wah,” this nutrient-rich staple has been popular among healthy eaters for years, but these days it’s becoming more and more mainstream. Chances are good that a coffeehouse near you is serving up quinoa bagels as we speak, and it’s also been showing up in cereals, chips, pastas, and even chocolate bars and whiskey. So, what is this nutritional powerhouse, and why all the fuss?

It’s a Grain. It’s a Vegetable. It’s Quinoa!

Quinoa is often used as a substitute for grains such as rice and barley, but it’s actually more closely related to spinach and tumbleweeds than any of the cereals it typically stands in for.

Where Does Quinoa Come From?

Quinoa has a very limited natural range. It was originally domesticated in the Peruvian Andes, and has been an integral dietary staple in that part of the world for more than 3 millennia. The Incas called it the “mother of all grains.”

97% of it is currently grown in Peru and Bolivia, though it has been cultivated in other parts of the world, with varying degrees of success. If you can find fair-trade quinoa, it’s worth paying a little extra to purchase it. Buying fair-trade ensures that small family farms continue to benefit from this wonder-food’s exploding popularity and rising value.

Why All the Fuss?

So why is quinoa so popular among health-conscious eaters? Where should we start? First of all, quinoa is 14% protein by mass, which makes it a wonderful substitute for starchy grains. Many studies have suggested that quinoa contains complete proteins, so it’s an ideal food for vegetarians who want to add an additional protein source to their diet.

Quinoa is also rich in dietary fiber, which aids digestion and helps keep the GI tract running smoothly. In addition, it boasts high levels of phosphorus, which contributes to healthy bones and protein formation, iron, which is crucial for muscle health, and magnesium, which scientists are discovering is far more important that previously thought. Plus, it’s full of calcium, so it’s a smart addition to any vegan or lactose-free diet.

For being so nutrient-rich, quinoa is very low in calories. It has only 120 per serving. Oh, and did we mention that it’s gluten-free? That’s right: it’s not related to wheat, so it’s a perfect substitute for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

How to Eat Quinoa

When preparing quinoa, it’s important to place it in a strainer and rinse it until the soapy residue is gone. That’s the saponin, and it’s what keeps birds and other animals from eating the quinoa before humans can get to it. It’s not very tasty, though, so make sure you get rid of it before cooking.

You can use quinoa in all sorts of ways. It’s a wonderful substitute for rice in curries, casseroles, and soups. You can eat it for breakfast like you would oatmeal. You can mix it into burritos, make porridge out of it, or use it to create the perfect protein salad. The possibilities are nearly endless.

[Photo Credit: en.wikipedia]


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