Getting to Know Our Grains: Quinoa

Red Quinoa

Cooked Red Quinoa

I made my Southwest Black Bean and Corn Quinoa for Easter this past weekend and the one question I got asked over and over again was, “What is Quinoa?” It made me realize that even though I eat it quite often, even I don’t really know much about what exactly quinoa is. So I decided to do a little research and I thought this would be a good place to share my findings.

At the most basic level, quinoa is grain-like, though not truly a grain. Quinoa is actually a chenopod, which is more closely related to species such as beets and spinach than to cereal family grains. Quinoa has been around for thousands of years, originating in South America and it grows best in somewhat cooler climates.

Incas referred to quinoa as “the mother of all grains” and it was a major staple in the Indian diet. It was such a central part of their diets because Quinoa contains many of the nutrients that are essential to good health. Quinoa contains high percentages of protein (12%-18%) and has a balanced set of amino acids. In addition, quinoa is gluten-free so it’s a great grain for those with allergies.

There are several types of quinoa, including the most prevalent cream-colored quinoa as well as red and black quinoa. In my experience, the red quinoa is a bit smaller and a little crunchier in texture than the cream-colored quinoa. If you have a gluten allergy, you can also find quinoa flour and other quinoa products that make a great replacement for traditional wheat flour.

You can find quinoa in the whole foods or heath foods section of your local grocery store and although it can be fairly expensive, it is definitely worth having around the house for various recipes.

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