Pronounced keen-wah, quinoa is ancient grain-like product that has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years in the United States. Quinoa, like buckwheat or amaranth, is not a truly a grain. It does, however, looks like one and is served as one. Strangely enough, quinoa is related to leafy vegetables such as Swiss chard and spinach.
Though quinoa is a fairly recent introduction to the American larder, this native Andean crop sustained the Incas just as amaranth did the Aztecs. In a parallel sequence of events, the cultivation of quinoa, like that of amaranth, may also have been suppressed by the Spanish conquistadors. However, this valuable food plant survived in remote areas and has been cultivated continuously for over 5,000 years.
Quinoa’s survival through the millennia may be attributed to the resinous, bitter coating that protects its seeds from birds and insects. This coating, called saponin, is soapy and must be removed in a strong alkaline solution to make the grain palatable. Most quinoa sold in this country has already been cleansed of its saponin coating.
Quinoa grains are about the same size as millet, but are flattened with a pointed, oval shape. As quinoa cooks, the external germ, which forms a band around each grain, spirals out, forming a tiny crescent-shaped “tail.” Although the grain itself is soft and creamy, the tail is crunchy, providing a unique textural complement.
Quinoa’s key nutritional distinguishing factor is its high level of lysine, an amino acid necessary for the synthesis of many proteins, making it one of the best sources of plant protein. Quinoa also provides riboflavin, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, potassium,zinc, and fiber.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Quinoa in the National Nutrient Database.
Types of quinoa
- Quinoa Flakes: Quinoa is steamed, rolled, and flaked. This form cooks quickly and is used as a hot cereal.
- Quinoa Flour: Quinoa flour is higher in fat than wheat flour and makes baked goods moister. You can make your own quinoa flour by processing whole quinoa in a blender. Stop before the flour is too fine. It should be slightly coarse, like cornmeal.
- Whole grain quinoa: The most common quinoa is an ivory-white color, but the whole grain can also be found in pale-yellow, red, and black.
How to cook quinoa
Quinoa should be rinsed to remove any powdery residue of saponins. Place the grain in a fine strainer and hold it under cold running water until the water runs clear, then drain well. Brown the grain in a dry skillet for 5 minutes before simmering or baking to give it a delicious roasted flavor.
5 recipe ideas for quiona
- Cook quinoa with sautéed vegetables as an easy and highly nutritious dinner.
- Add quinoa to a salad with grapefruit, almonds, and mint.
- Make a pesto quinoa salad as a summery potluck dish.
- Try making quinoa muffins.
- Enjoy a coconut-quinoa pudding for dessert.