Though commonly considered as a grain, quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) is actually an ancient seed that is native to the Andean area. This area includes Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and the indigenous people here have been growing quinoa for many thousands of years. Some estimates take the cultivation of quinoa as far back as 3,000 years ago. Recently, quinoa has taken center stage as a remarkable superfood that deserves a space on everyone’s pantry. In fact, it is such a popular crop that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations deemed 2013 as the “Year of Quinoa”. Ready to give quinoa a try? Read on to learn more about the benefits of this ancient seed.
Quinoa is highly valued for its protein content. Unlike some food products, quinoa has all nine amino acids needed to make it a complete protein. This makes it especially important for those searching for a plant-based protein to even out their nutritional profile. Quinoa is also rich in minerals like magnesium, iron (another important mineral for those on a plant-based diet) and phosphorous. This seed is also a great source for fiber, but remember to always up your water intake when you add more fiber in to your diet to allow it to move freely throughout the body. With all of these great nutrients, its no wonder quinoa has been praised as an important superfood!
A Gluten-Free Alternative
Though quinoa is a wonderful food for everyone, but it is especially valuable for those who have intolerance to gluten. Quinoa flour, along with coconut flour, is a relatively easy to find alternative to conventional grain flours that acts as a substitute in gluten free baking.
Quinoa is a wonderful alternative to rice or other grains. With practice, you can cook fluffy quinoa as a side by itself or mixed into a recipe. Just like rice, all you need to make quinoa is water and a pot with a lid. It’s a good idea to get the hang of cooking quinoa plain at first. Then, once you master the art of fluffy quinoa, add in other flavor enhancers like spices or Red Palm Oil. Quinoa works great as a side, as a base for vegetables, in breakfast meals, and served as a hot dish or cold as a salad. You can even use quinoa flakes to make your own gluten free bread! Prepare more quinoa than you plan to eat for dinner, save and refrigerate for a quick base for “breakfast oats” in the morning.
How to Prepare Plain Quinoa
Be sure to use 2 parts water (or broth) to 1 part quinoa.
- Rinse quinoa well. If you skip this step, your quinoa will likely stick together and you won’t achieve a light, fluffy texture. Rinsing removes the saponins that can sometimes make quinoa taste bitter.
- Bring water (or broth) to a boil in a pot that has a fitted lid.
- Stir in quinoa, cover and let it sit for about 12 minutes on low heat.
- Be sure not to uncover the lid too early for best results.
- Remove lid, fluff with a fork and enjoy!
Support Native Growers – Buy Fair Trade or Local
Quinoa’s popularity in the United States, Europe and elsewhere has boomed in the last few years. This high demand has made this crop a very valuable one, and the cost has risen sharply in the last decade. Recently, concerns were voiced about anecdotal stories that the rising cost of quinoa globally has made it nearly impossible for the indigenous people of the Andean region to afford the crop that they have eaten for thousands of years. You can be sure that the farmers and community are being paid fair wages is to purchase Fair-Trade Certified quinoa. You can also purchase domestically grown quinoa online.
Of course, there are always two sides to one coin. There are other anecdotal stories that the purchase of quinoa (fair trade or not) has actually created a thriving economy for many who didn’t have one before. While these are two very opposing sides, it’s important to follow your instinct to find out what feels right for you.
Have you tried quinoa before? What are you favorite ways to eat it? Share your recipes with us in the comments section below!