Quinoa, referred to as the chisaya mama or “mother of all grains” by ancient Incan societies, is the heavenly little grain-like plant that has become the center of my gluten-free diet. Although most think that quinoa is a grain, it’s actually a seed and is the same family as beets and spinach!
Quinoa hails from the Peruvian Andes where it was loved and cherished by the Incas over 5,000 years ago. The crop was sacred and even considered the “gold” of their society. When the Spanish arrived, everything changed. They looked down on quinoa as “the Indian’s food” and suppressed the cultivation of the crop. It has been shown that the conquerors actually forbid the planting of quinoa and forced the Inca to grow wheat instead.
But that’s all ancient history. Quinoa has overcome the obstacles and made its way onto thousands of plates across the world. Although it may not be mainstream yet, quinoa’s popularity is growing, and more and more people are realizing the amazingness it brings to life.
How amazing you may ask? Well, let me begin by saying that we all know about the list of amazing “superfoods” that all men and women must eat to stay strong, healthy, and full of life. List toppers are usually blueberries, raw almonds, eggs and broccoli. True, each of these foods is packed with nutrients and is incredibly healthy, but what many people don’t realize is that quinoa outranks many of these champions.
Quinoa is insanely healthy. Not only is quinoa gluten-free, but it is full of protein, fiber and other fabulous nutrients. Quinoa has all nine essential amino acids, which makes it a complete vegetable protein. Quinoa is easy to digest and for vegetarians and vegans, it is a perfect alternative to animal protein.
Quinoa is also a complex carbohydrate meaning that it digests gradually, giving the body time to absorb the nutrients and does not quickly convert the food to sugar and fat. This alone, makes quinoa great for low-carbo dieters. Now I am not one to diet, so we’re not focusing this post on how quinoa can help you lose weight. We’re talking about how to integrate this superfood to help you live a healthier and happier life.
For the folks leading an active lifestyle, you could hardly find a better food than quinoa. Complex carbohydrates like quinoa keep you feeling full longer and because they digest fairly slowly they provide energy and endurance for your hard working muscles. The high protein content of quinoa also makes it a superior muscle-building supplement.
Although quinoa is not technically a grain, it has many grain-like properties and acts as many other whole grains do. The high level of magnesium found in quinoa helps lower blood pressure and the manganese and copper eliminate toxins through their antioxidant powers. Iron is also a key component of quinoa and is critical to human health. It promotes the production of red blood cells which carry oxygen from your lungs to all your tissues. Consuming foods that are rich in iron is incredibly important and an essential piece to living a healthy lifestyle.
The list of health benefits that quinoa provides goes on and on. Just know that quinoa is one of the healthiest, delicious, most amazing foods out there, and is something we should all incorporate into our diets. Here is a breakdown of quinoa’s stellar nutritional profile.
Quinoa has an incredibly bitter tasting coating around the seeds in its natural state. Although the coating is beneficial during the growth process because wards off birds and other insects, it makes quinoa unpalatable for us humans. Another downside is that the saponins are slightly toxic and act as a natural laxative. I know, not very appealing. Luckily for us, most quinoa sold commercially in the United States (and abroad), has been rinsed and processed to remove the saponins.
If your quinoa has not been pre-rinsed, the first step is to remove this coating. To do so, simply place your quinoa in a fine strainer or cheesecloth and rinse it under running water for a few minutes. An alternative, although it takes much longer, is to soak your quinoa for a few hours, change the water and soak it again and then drain the water out of the bowl.
There are many schools of thought about the best way to cook quinoa. Some say stovetop, some say rice cooker, some say strainer, some even say slow cooker. I like to keep it old school and basic and I always use the stove top.
When cooked, quinoa is light, fluffy, with a slightly nutty flavor. It can be used in place of rice, couscous, tabouleh and even oatmeal. Quinoa is easy to prepare and cooks faster than many other grains.
Like rice, quinoa is very easy to cook on the stove. Simply bring two cups of water to boil with one cup of quinoa, covering and letting it simmer for 8 – 12 minutes. The quinoa is done cooking when the water has been absorbed and the germ has separated from the seed.
This is my favorite method of cooking. It feels fail safe and is easy to monitor as you are preparing the rest of your meal. I have never over cooked or burned it on the stove and the quinoa cooks so quickly that I find it easier to time with the rest of my cooking.
When cooking quinoa in a rice cooker, you treat it exactly as you would white rice. Add two cups of water of water and one cup of quinoa to your cooker and turn it on. The rice cooker should automatically turn off or switch to the “warming” setting when the water has been absorbed.
I will say that when using a rice cooker, you should carefully monitor how the quinoa is cooking as it gets close to being done. I have over cooked it before and had the quinoa stick and burn to the bottom of pan.
Boil & Drain
Another way to prepare quinoa is like you would pasta. Cook the quinoa in twice as much water as you would using a simmer method and drain after the quinoa looks done. Watch for the separation between the germ and the seed to signify that it’s ready to be drained. Drain the cooked quinoa in a fine strainer or cheesecloth. This is a great method to remove any remaining saponin coating.
Quinoa can be added to soup, stew, chili or casserole. Really any recipe that you would integrate pasta or rice, you can use quinoa. When cooking quinoa in a slower cooker, make sure you have enough liquid to support the cooking process. For example, 2 cups of liquid to 1 cup of uncooked quinoa. Add your quinoa half way through the cooking process and let it simmer away.