Over the past decade, a grain called Quinoa began working its way into the public consciousness in subtle little ways – recipes called for using it as a topping on yogurt, as an addition to salads and stir fry, or as a substitute for rice. It became the latest “new kid,” in a list of trendy super foods. I became Quinoa curious. What do we actually know about this mysterious interloper? What I discovered is that Quinoa is no new kid, but instead is an ancient grain that has been a staple on the dinner table, since…well, before we had dinner tables. Pronounced KEEN-wah, it was first cultivated over 5,000 years ago, and was known to the Incas as “the mother of all grains.”
There are hundreds of cultivated types of quinoa, but the most common varieties available in stores are white, red, and black quinoa. It may have taken a while but the little grain that could, has finally taken its rightful place at the 20th century table. Here’s what we know about what it is and why it is so good for us.
It’s a gluten-free whole grain.
Quinoa is often referred to as a whole grain, however, it is actually the seed of a non-grassy plant that is more closely related to spinach, beets and Swiss chard, than it is to grains like wheat, oats and rice. Quinoa is considered a whole grain because the entire seed is left intact, not milled or refined like white flour or white rice, so it is rich in fiber and nutrients. Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and has a high protein-to-carbohydrate ratio when compared with other grains.
It’s a complete protein.
Quinoa is one of only a few plant foods that are considered a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce and, therefore, must consume as a part of our diet. This makes quinoa a great dietary choice for vegetarians and vegans.
It’s high in fiber.
Because of its high fiber content compared with other grains, quinoa helps reduce the risk of a number of health conditions, including heart disease (by lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol), diabetes and prediabetes (by helping to improve blood sugar control). As a high fiber food, quinoa reduces constipation and helps to prevent hemorrhoids. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight because you feel fuller for longer, potentially reducing the overall intake of food.
It’s an excellent source of antioxidants.
As a gluten-free grain that is high in antioxidants, quinoa is an excellent choice of those people who require a gluten-free diet. In fact, the level of antioxidants and nutrients in quinoa is higher than found in other common gluten-free foods such as corn, rice, or potatoes. Researchers at Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center found that the nutritional content of gluten-free diets was significantly improved by adding quinoa to meals and snacks.
It’s packed with vitamins and minerals.
It protects against kidney stones. Quinoa has a potential protective effect against kidney stones. This is because quinoa helps manage potassium levels.
Incorporating quinoa into your diet
You can find quinoa at most grocery stores in the flour section or with pastas and grains. Quinoa is a great replacement for rice or couscous in many hot or cold recipes. When prepared it is light and fluffy in texture with a delicate crunch. In general, you cook it like you would rice, using 2 parts water or liquid for every one part of quinoa. It is recommended that you rinse and soak for a few minutes before cooking.
Other ways to incorporate quinoa into your favorite recipes: