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Ancient Grain is the Newest Superfood (Includes Recipes)
by Barbara Minton
(The Best Years in Life) There's something on your grocer's shelf we bet you haven't tried. It is the live seed of a dark green leafy plant called Quinoa, and it has the taste, texture and versatility of grain. Quinoa (pronounced keen' wa) is the only grain-like food that offers a complete protein, a feature that makes it a favorite with those avoiding animal protein. Quinoa has a delicate nutty flavor when cooked, and can be a nutrient packed substitute in many traditional recipes. Best of all, it requires no more effort than cooking rice, and is very inexpensive.
Quinoa was revered by the Incas
Quinoa was an important food in the Andean region of South America 6,000 years ago. The Incas considered it a sacred food and referred to it as the mother seed and gold of the Incas. During the European conquest of South America and the effort to extinguish the Indian culture, quinoa fields were destroyed. Growing quinoa was made illegal with punishment that included death, and as a result, it came close to complete extinction. In recent years two Americans with great business sense began cultivating the plant in Colorado and its rebirth began. Quinoa is now a favorite wherever the health minded shop.
Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse
Quinoa is again regaining the place of nutritional importance it had during the pre-Columbian Andean diet. It is now appreciated for its high protein content which ranges from 12 to 18 percent. One 3.5 ounce serving provides 14 grams of protein.
Quinoa's protein has all of the amino acids necessary for the construction of proteins for human use. Unlike other grains, quinoa has an ample supply of lysine. Quinoa is an excellent source of dietary fiber, containing both soluble and non soluble fiber. It is high in a variety of vitamins and minerals, especially manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus. It is gluten-free and unlike true grains, is very easy to digest. Quinoa is low on the glycemic index, meaning it will not cause blood sugar levels to spike, and it provides a sustained feeling of fullness.
Preparing quinoa is a snap
Boxed quinoa is usually found alongside pasta and other dried grain products. It has been rinsed and is ready to prepare. Quinoa sold in bulk bins is usually rinsed too. If you like, give it a final rinse in a strainer before preparing.
The basic cooking recipe for quinoa is the same as for rice. Two cups of water and one cup of quinoa is brought to a strong boil, covered and slowly simmered for about 12 to 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when it looks somewhat translucent and the germ of the seed makes a white ring around the outside of the grain.
Quinoa should be served al dente, like pasta. Vegetables and seasonings can be added to the cooking water for extra flavor. Chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for the water.
Prepared quinoa can be kept in a tightly closed glass jar in the refrigerator for a week, and added to dishes as ideas strike. Quinoa makes a super nutritious replacement for rice, couscous, and pasta. It can be served as a main dish, a side dish, or added to soups, salads, pilafs, vegetable dishes and veggie burgers or veggie meatloaves.
Quinoa is popular as a high protein breakfast food that starts the day with a bang. It can be mixed with honey, nuts or fruit. Prepared cereal foods made with quinoa are available at health food stores. These grocers also carry dried pasta and noodle products made of quinoa.
Flour made from quinoa is available to use in gluten-free baking. For a baking mix, use three parts quinoa flour, three parts sorghum flour, two parts potato starch, and one part tapioca starch.
Sprouted quinoa offers the ultimate in nutrition
Raw quinoa can be sprouted to activate its natural enzymes and boost its vitamin content. It only takes about 4 hours to sprout quinoa. Just place the raw grains in a glass of clean water. After 4 hours the enzymes will be released. The sprouting process softens the grains, making them suitable to be directly added to salads and other foods without having to be cooked. Sprouted quinoa is best eaten in 2 to 3 days.
Quinoa has super impressive health credentials
Quinoa was called gold of the Incas because its high level of complete protein increased the stamina of Inca warriors. Its mineral profile makes it valuable for anyone with migraine headaches, and its low score on the glycemic index makes it ideal for people with diabetes.
The substantial level of magnesium in quinoa relaxes blood vessels, and decreases hypertension and the risk of stroke. Eating quinoa slows the progression of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows vessels, and lessens progression of stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways.
The high levels of manganese and copper in quinoa serve as cofactors for the production of superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the powerful antioxidants produced by the body. SOD protects the mitochondria of the cells from free radical damage.
Quinoa’s high fiber content makes it protective of breast health. Researchers looked at how much fiber participants in the UK Women’s Cohort Study consumed. After analyzing data from 35,972 women, they found that a diet rich in fiber offered significant protection for pre-menopausal women. Women eating the most fiber, more than 30 grams daily, halved their risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who ate the lowest amount. This study was reported in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
There is an abundance of lignans in quinoa that are converted to mammalian lignans in the intestinal tract. One of these lignans is believed to be protective against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. Lignans act like weak estrogens in the body and fit into estrogen receptors in the breast and other hormonally sensitive areas of the body. When lignans are locked into receptors, excessive estrogen that results from hormone imbalance is not able to fill those receptors and stimulate undesirable cell growth.
Eating grains such as quinoa can help reduce the incidence of wheezing and other symptoms of asthma. A study reported in The World's Healthiest Foods' article on quinoa found that in children with a low intake of fish and whole grains, the prevalence of wheezing was almost 20%, but was only 4.2% in children with a high intake of both foods. Low levels of grain and fish consumption also correlated with a much higher incidence of current asthma, 16.7%, compared to only 2.8% for children with a high intake of grains and fish.
Try these delicious ways to eat quinoa
Dishes that are easy to prepare, easy on the budget, and full of good taste are in demand. Here are two that are particularly satisfying.
Add quinoa to 2 cups of water. Cover and simmer about 10-15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Set aside to cool. Combine lime juice, cumin, coriander, cilantro, scallions, beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and chilies. Drizzle with olive oil. Add cooled quinoa, salt and pepper to taste. Toss. Serves 2-3.
2 cups quinoa, cooked
Place all ingredients except lettuce and olives in a mixing bowl and toss together lightly. Chill for 1 hour or more to allow flavors to blend. Wash and dry lettuce leaves and use them to line a salad bowl. Add tabouli and garnish with olives. Serves 4.
For more recipes featuring quinoa and hundreds of other tasty and healthy recipes, see:
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