All About Quinoa

What’s the Deal with Quinoa? 

I often ask myself questions in an exaggerated Jerry Seinfeld voice.  The topic of this post is no exception.  I have been eating Quinoa for many years, but I never bothered to research it.  It is delicious, easy to prepare, and it is a great substitute for many recipes calling for rice or other grains.  Yes, I know it is hard to believe that a self-proclaimed Google addict and foodie had not bothered to research a food with such an exotic, almost mystical name.  But, it is true. 

Recently, while reading articles about the evils of refined grains, I noticed that Quinoa was listed as a healthy alternative.  Stop the music.  Had I found yet another Holy Grail of health foods to provide companionship to my revered couscous?  I knew, vaguely, that it was good for me, but as I continued my research, I wondered how I had overlooked the benefits of Quinoa for so many years.

First, let’s address the pronunciation.  Chances are you are correct no matter how you pronounce it.  However, whether it is accepted as correct depends on where you are.  But, I’m sure you will come across someone who will readily insist you are wrong.  Here in the United States, the consensus is that it should be pronounced “KEEN-wah” with stress on the first syllable.  Running a close second is “kee-NO-wah.”  If you are in another country, all bets are off.  If you are in Spain, well, better off to just ask rather than be embarrassed, as the pronunciation varies by region.

Now that we have the name out of the way, let’s figure out exactly what this magical little food is.  You may hear it described as a pseudo-cereal.  And I find that to be a great way to put it.  It is like a cereal (grain), but it’s not.  Unlike cereals, which are grasses, Quinoa is a seed of the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant.  Spinach, beets, and Swiss Chard (a personal favorite) are all in the same family.  As for the name of the plant, it comes from the Greek words “chen” and “pous” or goose foot.  The green leaves of the plant are said to resemble the webbed foot of a goose.  Why not Duckfoot, you may ask.  Perhaps when it was being named, a goose was nearby.  Maybe a bunch of plants were playing “Duck Duck Goose.”  I don’t know.  This is purely conjecture on my part.

Although Quinoa has been cultivated for over 5,000 years, originally in the South American Andes, it has only been discovered in the past few decades in the United States.  Once a staple of many South American cultures, it is now a comparatively high priced item in modern societies.  In fact, due to its emerging popularity, its price has risen to the point it is not even affordable for many people in the regions where it originated!  But, much like Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya.  Perhaps I should have used a Cream of Wheat analogy, but I like catchy slogans.

Several South American cultures considered Quinoa to be a sacred crop, and it was involved in most religious ceremonies.  Unfortunately, those pesky Europeans did not approve of the beliefs of the native cultures and considered them to be nomads.  Since the European conquests were most often carried out in the name of Christianity, a sacred grain of the Incas was banned, and wheat was substituted.  Strangely, the Europeans did not lodge a similar grievance against corn in North America.  My guess is that starvation in the brutal winters had a way of influencing exceptions.

While there are well over a hundred varieties of the Goosefoot plant, with an array of colors and beautiful foliage, only a handful are typically cultivated for food.  The most common is a lightly-colored, pale variety.  The seeds have a mild, slightly nutty flavor and, when cooked, are most similar to couscous.  They are an excellent substitute for almost any recipe calling for rice or other grains.  In fact, I cook Quinoa the same way as I do my rice.  I begin by rinsing it in a flour sifter, as it is a very small seed, and will disappear down the drain along with the water if you use a colander.  Some people use cheesecloth to rinse  it.  I suppose I would too if I had an audience and wanted to come across as distinguished.  Next, I put two cups of water and one cup Quinoa in my rice cooker, and to quote Ron Popeil, I “set it and forget it.”

By itself, Quinoa is somewhat bland.  I often add a few pats of butter and whatever seasoning I am in the mood for.  It does not get much easier than that.  One favorite recipe I use is to add a mixture of sautéed garlic, onions, and red bell peppers.  As you will find, the sky is the limit, however.  It is nearly impossible to create a bad dish when experimenting with Quinoa.  I have not been able to find the leaves of the plant in grocery store, but they can be cooked down like most other greens, and, from what I’ve read, are similar to spinach.

But wait, there’s more!  Nutritionally, Quinoa is what I consider a super food.  It has the best of both worlds.  As I said earlier, it is a pseudo-cereal.  It is hard o distinguish from a grain.  But, it is so much more.  It has a high protein count, and a balanced set of amino acids, making it great for people looking to build muscle and satisfy a craving for carbs while receiving the benefits of a protein.  Moreover, it is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and iron.  I could go on and on about the health benefits of Quinoa, but it would just make me hungry, and I would never finish this post.  So, I’ve included the nutritional values from USDAQ Nutritional Database. 

Quinoa, cooked

Scientific Name:  Chenopodium quinoa Willd.
NDB No: 20137 (Nutrient values and weights are for edible portion)

Nutrient

Units

1.00 X 1 cup
——-
185g

Proximates    
Water

g

132.48

Energy

kcal

222

Energy

kJ

931

Protein

g

8.14

Total lipid (fat)

g

3.55

Ash

g

1.41

Carbohydrate, by difference

g

39.41

Fiber, total dietary

g

5.2

Starch

g

32.62

Minerals    
Calcium, Ca

mg

31

Iron, Fe

mg

2.76

Magnesium, Mg

mg

118

Phosphorus, P

mg

281

Potassium, K

mg

318

Sodium, Na

mg

13

Zinc, Zn

mg

2.02

Copper, Cu

mg

0.355

Manganese, Mn

mg

1.167

Selenium, Se

µg

5.2

Vitamins    
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid

mg

0.0

Thiamin

mg

0.198

Riboflavin

mg

0.204

Niacin

mg

0.762

Vitamin B-6

mg

0.228

Folate, total

µg

78

Folic acid

µg

0

Folate, food

µg

78

Folate, DFE

mcg_DFE

78

Vitamin B-12

µg

0.00

Vitamin A, RAE

mcg_RAE

0

Retinol

µg

0

Vitamin A, IU

IU

9

Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)

mg

1.17

Tocopherol, beta

mg

0.06

Tocopherol, gamma

mg

2.20

Tocopherol, delta

mg

0.20

Lipids    
Cholesterol

mg

0

Amino acids    
Tryptophan

g

0.096

Threonine

g

0.242

Isoleucine

g

0.290

Leucine

g

0.483

Lysine

g

0.442

Methionine

g

0.178

Cystine

g

0.117

Phenylalanine

g

0.342

Tyrosine

g

0.154

Valine

g

0.342

Arginine

g

0.629

Histidine

g

0.235

Alanine

g

0.339

Aspartic acid

g

0.653

Glutamic acid

g

1.073

Glycine

g

0.400

Proline

g

0.444

Serine

g

0.326

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23 (2010)  

What?  You’re still here?  Go buy some Quinoa and get busy!  Cheers.

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2 thoughts on “All About Quinoa

  1. Pingback: I love Quinoa! | | VSG momVSG mom

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