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Quinoa has been established as a superstar in the world of culinary ingredients. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization named 2013 the International Year of Quinoa and you can't open a health or fitness magazine without finding something touting its benefits. Quinoa deserves the acclaim due to its high nutritional content and relative ease of preparation. Quinoa is a whole food -- it is an ingredient unto itself.
What Is It?
Quinoa is often classified as a whole grain, but it's technically a seed that cooks like a grain. It's native to the Andean region in South America that spans from Colombia to the north of Argentina and southern Chile. Quinoa is now also grown in Europe, Canada and the U.S. It hails from the goosefoot plant, which is related to beets, chard and spinach. The leaves of the plant can be eaten as well, but it's the seed that gets all the buzz.
Variety, Gluten-Free and Quick-Cooking
Quinoa most commonly comes in red, black and white varieties. All the flavors cook quickly, in about 15 to 20 minutes and are naturally gluten-free. "Eating Well" magazine describes white quinoa as fluffy when cooked, while the black and red quinoa have a firmer texture and separate grains. Most quinoa sold in the U.S. is rinsed before being packaged and sold, because the seeds are coated with saponin, a bitter substance that acts as a natural deterrent to pests. If you aren't sure your quinoa came pre-rinsed, rinse it in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear before cooking.
The Incas called quinoa "chisaya mama," meaning the mother of all grains, due to its naturally high nutritional content. One cup of quinoa provides 8 grams of protein, and unlike many grains -- this protein contains all the essential amino acids in ideal ratios, putting it on par with meat, fish and soy in terms of protein quality. It's also a source of folate, magnesium, copper, iron, phosphorus and manganese. You get 5 grams of fiber with every cup, too.
Quinoa may be ground into a flour to create breads, baked goods, pastas and cereals. These products aren't 100 percent quinoa and may contain wheat as well as sugar and other flours. To ensure nothing is added to your quinoa, look for plain quinoa which is sold packaged or in bulk. Cook the grains in a ratio of 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid. Use plain quinoa as a base for stews or add it to soup. Mix it with nuts, dried fruit and milk for a breakfast cereal. Cool cooked quinoa and toss with black beans, jicama, grape tomatoes and a Southwestern salad dressing for a tasty side dish. Quinoa's nutty flavor marries with any number of additions, so be creative.
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