What Is Quinoa: and Why Are We Going Crazy Over It?

by Natalie on January 18, 2013

Everywhere you turn it seems Quinoa is the word! You can’t flip through a health magazine or peruse a trendy restaurant menu without seeing it pop up in every second recipe. For reasons unbeknownst to me I hadn’t really given it all that much attention in the past and assumed I had enough superfoods in my diet that this was one I could probably live without. But considering almost any tasty, vegetarian-friendly food attached to a substantial list of health benefits generally gets my tick of approval, I figured Quinoa was worth a second look. So after a good year of resistance I finally decided to get on board the Quinoa craze… and lucky I did!

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa (likes to be pronounced as keen-wah!) is an edible seed that comes from a herbaceous, grain like crop.  It can be cooked and served in a similar way to barley, oats, rice, or cracked wheat, which is why it is usually presumed to be a grain. It is native to South America, forming part of the pseudo cereal family and is closely related to chard, spinach, and beets. It also sprouts green leaves that some people like to eat although these are said to be rather difficult to buy. Quinoa can come in different colors including white, red or black but I don’t believe there is any significant difference in nutritional value based on the color of the seed. When cooked its texture is light and fluffy with a crunchy and sort of nutty taste, and the white seeds have a comparable appearance to couscous. Quinoa comes with a bitter natural coating called saponin, which is a deterrent for birds in the wild but means it should always be rinsed well before cooking.

The Health Benefits of Quinoa – AKA The Reasons To Love It

When I first heard of this strange sounding seed that so many of my fellow health loving friends were courageous enough to cook with, it seemed a little too overrated (and pricey) for my liking, so I stuck to good old brown rice as it has a somewhat similar nutritional profile. However on closer inspection, it turns out that there’s more to Quinoa than first meets the eye. Not only is it gluten-free, cholesterol-free, and lower in carbohydrates than other grains, but additionally contains:

  • Fibre to promote good digestion and bowel health
  • Calcium for bone strength
  • Magnesium to relax blood vessels and help migraine sufferers
  • Antioxidants to fight free radicals
  • and nine essential Amino Acids including lysine which is needed to support tissue growth

Quinoa is one of the best grain-free choices for Celiacs or those with gluten sensitivity and is also rumored to be great for Vegetarians as it is an excellent source of complete protein and is high in iron. Plus I realized you could buy it in bulk to save some dough and needless to say, I was hooked!

How To Use Quinoa

When buying Quinoa online or from your local health food store or supermarket, you’ll probably notice that it comes in two different forms, being seeds and flakes, both of which are cooked and used in completely different ways. Quinoa flakes can be a kind of gluten free cereal alternative and are great as a replacement for oats as they can be eaten like porridge with nuts, fruit and honey. They can also be used to make healthy puddings and baked goods. If you’ve ever mistaken Quinoa flakes for the seeds and attempted to add them to your salad, you’ll now know why the flavors weren’t quite as compatible as you expected.

Quinoa seeds are what most people are using to cook with and can be served hot or cold. To prepare them you can simply add 1 part Quinoa to 2 parts water, bring to boil and then leave to soak for around 10-15 minutes. One of the best things about Quinoa seeds is that they can act as a substitute for rice and most other grains meaning you can integrate them fairly easily into your normal meals without too much thought or effort. Not only can they replace other grains during mealtime but are also a healthy addition to salads, soups, and stir-frys.

Quinoa has become such a huge hit that you can now find hundreds of exclusively Quinoa based recipes, and yes the Apple Diaries has every intention of embarking on a journey of serious Quinoa experimentation slash eating. I will be sure to share my findings, which I predict will more than satisfy the taste buds.

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