Quinoa has long been known as a quick, easy and affordable food that can really pack a punch when it comes to nutrition. In more recent years, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) has grown in popularity and availability, becoming a staple in the “clean eating” diet adopted by many, and for good reason! Gluten-free and high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, quinoa is a great addition to any meal or salad.
Originating in South America, particularly in the Andean region, quinoa is a grain crop that produces edible and highly nutritious seeds. While many consider quinoa to be like hearty grains such as buckwheat, quinoa is actually more closely related to beets and spinach it its genetic makeup.
So what makes quinoa so special? Well, most people are aware that the quinoa seed is packed with protein, but what many do not realize is the type of protein it has to offer. While it is not hard to find protein-rich plants out there, it is uncommon to find one containing all nine of the amino acids required for human nutrition. Quinoa has a perfect balance of this complete protein, which is commonly found in meats. Quinoa is also rich in a multitude of vitamins and minerals, including iron, magnesium, lysine and riboflavin.
When it comes to quinoa prep, it is always suggested that you rinse your seeds before you start cooking. Quinoa is coated in saponin, which naturally protects it from being eaten by predators. Simply swish seeds in a small amount of water, then strain. Quinoa comes in a variety of colors, though the most common varieties are red, black and white. Despite the rainbow of options available, they remain fairly similar in taste and nutritional value, and any type can suffice to make a great meal.
Cooking quinoa is fairly simple, so if you can cook rice, quinoa will be a cinch! Cooking instructions call for one part quinoa to two parts water in a saucepan. Heat on high until it reaches a boil, then reduce to low heat. Cover the pot, and simmer until most of the water has been absorbed, which usually takes about 15-20 minutes. Fluff up with a fork, and serve!
Be advised that different types of quinoa vary slightly in cook times and consistency, with white quinoa cooking up a little fluffier than the red and black varieties which tend to be a little crunchier. If you are planning to add to soup recipes, less is more, as the seeds do expand quite a bit.
Got a sweet tooth that needs to be satisfied? You can use quinoa flakes or quinoa flour to make baked goods, and they are an especially great options for anyone looking for gluten-free sweets. You can usually find either of these ingredients in any health food store, and some larger grocery store chains all over the country.