We aren’t the first people to consider quinoa a superfood. The ancient Incas were using quinoa 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, and they knew they had something special. They called it the “mother of all grains.”
Nutritional research says quinoa lives up to that name. This increasingly popular grain has an astonishing rich nutrient profile and is relatively low in calories. Officials at NASA have even suggested quinoa is an ideal food for long space flights. Here’s the full scoop on this amazing grain.
What Is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a protein-rich seed with a slightly nut-like flavor. When cooking, quinoa is prepared and used in the same way as many cereal grains, but beets and spinach are actually its closest plant relatives.
Like other grains, quinoa can be made into porridge, mixed into salads, ground into flour and popped like popcorn. Quinoa’s nutty taste makes it distinctive among other grains.
This superfood is native to Peru and its use dates back to the Inca of the Andes Mountains. Quinoa nearly became extinct when the Spanish conquered Central and South America and foolishly prohibited its farming and production. In the 1980s, two Colorado citizens rediscovered the seed and started growing it. Today, over 200,000 pounds of quinoa are cultivated each year in the US Rocky Mountain region.
Health Benefits of Quinoa
Quinoa is a Complete Protein
One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein. This high protein-to-carbohydrate ratio is unusual among starchy foods. What makes quinoa even more valuable is that it’s high in all of the essential amino acids. Amino acids are the molecules that make up proteins. Essential amino acids can’t be synthesized by the body and must be obtained through diet.
Quinoa is High in Flavonoids
Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants are molecules that protect our bodies from the aging effect of free radicals.
Quinoa has Heart-healthy Fats
Approximately one fourth of quinoa’s fatty acids come in the form of oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Foods rich monounsaturated fats can improve your cholesterol levels. Quinoa also is a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. A diet high in omega-3s can protect against coronary artery disease and high blood pressure.
Quinoa is a Good Source of Several Minerals
One cup of quinoa has 15 percent or more of the recommended daily values of iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and copper.
One Cup of Quinoa has Five Grams of Fiber
According to an article in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, dietary fiber intake is associated with lower body weight. Dietary fiber is also known for keeping our digestive tract running smoothly and preventing constipation.
Quinoa is Naturally Gluten-free
Many gluten-free grain products are highly processed and low in fiber, but not quinoa! So it’s a healthy choice for people with gluten sensitivities.
How to Prepare Quinoa
This basic recipe for plain quinoa is easy to make and keeps well in the refrigerator. The instructions make four half-cup servings.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups water
- Rinse the quinoa thoroughly. Warning: skipping this step will give your quinoa bitter flavor.
- Toast the quinoa. Sauté it in a pan on medium-low heat, stirring constantly. As the water evaporates, the quinoa will start to pop.
- The quinoa is finished toasting when it’s golden-brown and omitting a nutty smell.
- Add water to the quinoa and bring to a boil.
- Turn down the heat so the quinoa is just simmering. Cover the pan.
- Let the quinoa cook covered for about 15 minutes or until the water evaporates.
More to Know about Quinoa
Quinoa has a naturally bitter, soap-like coating called saponin. To avoid adding the bitterness of saponin to your dish, rinse quinoa in a strainer with cold running water before cooking. Many consumer quinoa brands pre-wash their quinoa. If your box is marked as pre-washed, you can skip this step.
Not all recipes call for you to toast the quinoa before cooking. If you have time, add in this step! Toasting enhances the mild nutty flavor of quinoa and reduces any bitter or earthy taste.
Quinoa — a complete protein source — can be adapted to many different cuisines. Because it’s gluten-free and vegan, no matter what tastes or dietary restrictions you have, quinoa is probably a good choice for you. The “mother of all grains” truly deserves the title of superfood.