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What is Quinoa? 04/13/12

Find out more about the sacred miracle food of the ancient Incas: Quinoa. By Laura Cooke

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There are lots of “weird” foods out there that if we were honest about it, we have no clue where they come from.

Something that has been a relatively recent addition to my shelves is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah or kee-noh-uh.) with it’s slightly nutty taste, it makes an excellent change to rice, pasta and couscous. The fact that it’s packed with nutrients, high in protein and gluten-free makes it even better.

Quinoa grains

So what is it?
Quinoa refers to the edible seeds of a grain-like crop that has been cultivated and used by humans for thousands of years – starting in the Andean region of South America.

Way back in the day, the Incas thought of quinoa as sacred, calling it the “mother of all grains.” When the Spanish came along during the 15-17th century, they weren’t too keen on quinoa. Looking down on this “food for Indians” they tried to get the locals to stop growing the crop because of the status it held in non-Christian ceremonies. At one point they just outright banned it. Usage declined and was replaced by other grains like wheat.

Quinoa before flowering

Miracle food?
Every now and again, a new “miracle food” makes waves around the globe. And quinoa has certainly been one of the chosen few of the ancient staples that have been “rediscovered”. It “has remarkable nutritional properties, not only from its protein content (15%), but also from its great amino acid balance”.(Abugoch, 2009). It has high levels of the amino-acid lysine – which you don’t find in many plant foods – and is packed with minerals and minerals.

In a feature on health24.com, author Dr IV van Heerden says:

It is evident that one cup of cooked quinoa is a rich source of energy supplying about 12% of the daily energy requirement for an adult woman who is not trying to lose weight and nearly 15% of the daily energy intake if a woman is on an energy-reduced diet.

So while quinoa is an excellent source of readily available fuel and will make an important contribution to the energy needs of anyone who has a high energy demand such as sportsmen and women, and very active children and teenagers, slimmers should only eat moderate portions to prevent weight gain. Have half a cup of cooked quinoa for breakfast to sustain you for the whole morning.

It has very high protein content and has 9 essential amino acids, including lysine, making it a complete protein and great addition to the vegetarian or vegan diet. It’s also low in fat, a rich source of B vitamins, namely thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and folate and on top of all this gluten-free!

So while you probably shouldn’t eat buckets of the stuff (and you shouldn’t really eat buckets of anything, particularly chicken), it’s pretty amazing stuff.

How to cook it
The seeds are covered in a bitter-tasting coat containing saponins, which are removed after harvesting.
To cook the stuff, you follow a similar process to cooking rice. Rince the seeds, then add one cup quinoa to two cups water and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until they become translucent.

Take a look at the fabulous post and video on My New Roots for more on how to cook this miracle food.

Where to buy
Most health stores stock quinoa. Look out for  brands like PouyoukasHealth Connection and Nature’s Choice.

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Laura Cooke is the editor and creator of the Veggie Bunch website and community.

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