All Hail Quinoa, Superfood of Deliciousness!
The International Year of Quinoa
Last year the Food and Agricultural Association of the United Nations named 2013 “The International Year of Quinoa” and, based on the Restaurants Canada Chef Survey released last month, its sounds like we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of it. The survey indicates the trends we can expect from food in 2014 and number two on the list? Quinoa. Since we’ll be seeing lots of it this year, let’s talk about it.
What is it?
Originally from South American countries: Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Columbia, quinoa has been declared to be a superfood in recent years. It is a grain and, like wheat or rye, it falls under the ‘cereal’ category of grains (legumes, which includes beans, is the other), but it is not a true cereal; instead, it is pseudo-cereal, like buckwheat. Wait, what? When we eat quinoa we are actually eating the seeds (or fruit) of a broad-leaf plant, not a grass: that is what makes it a pseudo-cereal. True cereals are grasses.
Why is it so special?
Quinoa is championed for it’s high nutritional value and impressive biodiversity. It has been eaten for more than 5000 years and was referred to as the “mother seed” by Inca populations. Since this plant is very hearty and is able to grow in many different and difficult climates, it has became wildly popular. Quinoa is in the same family as beets and spinach… but in my brain, it’s like eating rice and I do love carbs.
There are over 100 varieties of quinoa and the most commonly available are: ivory, red, and black: while they are essentially interchangeable when cooking, red maintains its grainy shape and texture more than ivory, and black tends to be earthier and sweeter. When it comes to eating, quinoa is incredibly adaptable. It can be used on sweet or savoury dishes; making it perfect for any meal of the day. Moreover, it can be ground and used as flour and, since quinoa is hypoallergenic, it’s typically very safe to add to your diet.
What’s in it for me?
Okay, okay, I’ve droned on about where’s it’s from and why it’s a cool (… well, as cool as a grain can be), let’s get down to the brass-tacks, what makes it so great for you?
- Quinoa is a complex protein. This means that it contains all nine essential amino acids that are found in animal proteins, but it is meat-free.
- Quinoa helps maintain normal blood sugar levels and strengthen bones because it has high levels of manganese.
- Quinoa is higher in healthy monounsaturated fats than most cereal grasses. This means it’s better for your heart and, even when quinoa is cooked, it the quality of quinoa’s fatty acids are hardly compromised. The nutrients in it, stay in it.
- Because of it’s high in fiber and contains niacin, quinoa can help lower and control high cholesterol and prevent heart disease and stroke.
- Quinoa is low in calories—between 50-100 less per serving that brown rice—but makes you feel full and, since the dietary fiber in quinoa binds to cholesterol and fat, your body doesn’t absorb either, it aids in weight loss.
- Recent studies link quinoa with an anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that help reduce inflammation-related problems like obesity.
- Quinoa is safe for consumption if you are on a gluten-free diet.
- Quinoa is kosher.
What do I do with it?
First and foremost: before cooking quinoa must be thoroughly rinsed. You’ll know it’s finished when the soapy residue stops coming off them. Quinoa has a natural outer layer that is high in saponins—which are a toxin—and make it taste bitter unless properly washed.
From there, the sky is the limit. The easiest way to cook quinoa is by boiling it, just as you would rice. If you’re willing to give it a try, ground quinoa is a great flour alternative, just make sure you check your recipe proportions. When replacing all-purpose flour, I would recommend only changing out half of the proportions; if you’re switching from whole wheat, you can substitute the entire amount. Since quinoa is gluten free you’ll need to check to see if you’ll need a binder like xanthan gum or arrowroot starch, especially if you need your baking to have a leavening agent. Oh! And, if you’re up for it, quinoa can be popped like popcorn! If you’re looking few recipes to get you started, check out tastespotting.com
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