Nutritionally, quinoa might be considered a supergrain--although it is not really a grain, but the seed of a leafy plant that's distantly related to spinach. Quinoa has excellent reserves of protein, and unlike other grains, is not missing the amino aicd lysine, so the protein is more complete (a trait it shares with other "non-true" grains such as buckwheat and amaranth). The World Health Organization has rated the quality of protein in quinoa at least equivalent to that in milk. Quinoa offers more iron than other grains and contains high levels of potassium and riboflavin, as well as other B vitamins: B6, niacin, and thiamin. It is also a good source of magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese, and has some folate (folic acid).
An ancient grainlike product that has recently been "rediscovered" in this country, quinoa has a light, delicate taste, and can be substituted for almost any other grain.
Though quinoa is a recent addition to the North American larder, this crop, native to the Andes, sustained the ancient Incas, and has been cultivated continuously for more than 5,000 years. Quinoa thrives in poor soil, arid climates, and mountainous altitudes. Today, most quinoa is imported from South America, although it is being cultivated on the high slopes of the Colorado Rockies.
Quinoa grains are about the same size as millet, but flattened, with a pointed, oval shape. The color ranges from pale yellow through red and brown to black. Quinoa cooks quickly to a light, fluffy texture. As it cooks, the external germ, which forms a band around each grain, spirals out, forming a tiny crescent-shaped "tail," similar to a bean sprout. Although the grain itself is soft and creamy, the tail is crunchy, providing a unique texture to complement quinoa's delicate flavor. Availability
Since this grain is still a relatively new one, at least to the American market, you're most likely to find it in health-food and specialty stores. Large supermarkets often stock quinoa, too. Shopping
Quinoa is more expensive than most grains. However, during cooking, it increases about three to four times in volume, so you get reasonable value for your money. Storage
Store quinoa like other grains, in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry place. Preparation
Quinoa's survival through the millennia may be attributed to the resinous, bitter coating that protects its seeds from birds and insects--and also shields them from the intense high-altitude sunlight. This coating, called saponin, is soapy and must be removed in a strong alkaline solution to make the grain palatable. Most quinoa sold in this country has already been cleansed of its saponin. But quinoa should be rinsed thoroughly before cooking to remove any powdery residue of saponin. Place the grain in a fine strainer and hold it under cold running water until the water runs clear; drain well.
Toast the grain in a dry skillet for five minutes before cooking to give it a delicious roasted flavor. To cook, use two parts liquid to one part quinoa. Combine the liquid and toasted quinoa in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the grains are translucent and the germ has spiraled out from each grain, about 15 minutes.
To make a quinoa pilaf, begin by sauteing chopped onion and garlic in a little oil. Add toasted quinoa and liquid (two parts water to one part quinoa) and simmer as described above. After the pilaf is cooked, you can stir in other ingredients such as toasted nuts, dried fruit, shredded greens or fresh herbs, or cheese. Nutrition Chart
Quinoa/1/2 cup dry
Total fat (g) 4.9
Saturated fat (g) 0.5
Monounsaturated fat (g) 1.3
Polyunsaturated fat (g) 2
Dietary fiber (g) 5
Protein (g) 11
Carbohydrate (g) 59
Cholesterol (mg) 0
Sodium (mg) 18
Riboflavin (mg) 0.3
Vitamin E (mg) 4.1
Copper (mg) 0.7
Iron (mg) 7.9
Magnesium (mg) 179
Manganese (mg) 1.9
Phosphorus (mg) 349
Potassium (mg) 629
Zinc (mg) 2.8