THE FOOD SERIES: Quinoa

Pronounced keenwah/keenuwah. Is it just a healthy food trend? How nutritious is it really? Let’s find out!

DESCRIPTION:

Quinoa is often categorized and considered a grain due to the way we consume them, even though it is unrelated to other cereal grasses such as oats, barley, and rye. Interestingly, it is actually part of the same family that contains spinach, Swiss chard and beets! It is a pseudocereal similar to to amaranth. (Pseudocereal are foods that are not cereal grasses but can still be grounded into flour.)

Quinoa is able to survive through a variety of harsh conditions, such as high altitudes, thin and cold air, hot sun, little rainfall, and sub-freezing temperatures. Not only are the seeds that we normally see are edible, but the entire plant including the leaves and stems can also be consumed. Quinoa comes in various colours, commonly white, red or black (refer to picture); however colours such as orange, pink, purple, and tan can also be found. When cooked, they become fluffy yet still hold a subtle crunch. The flavour is slightly mild yet somewhat nutty.

PRODUCTION:

Quinoa was first consumed by the Andean people in South America some 3000-4000 years ago. Although it has immensely gained in popularity, Peru remains the largest producer of quinoa, followed by Bolivia and Ecuador. Today, demand for quinoa has drastically risen and is now popularly consumed in countries such as the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, China and Japan.

NUTRITIONAL PROFILE:

Half a cup cooked quinoa:

111.0 kcal
19.7 g carbs
2.6 g fiber
1.8 g fat
4.1 g protein
0.6 mg manganese
140.6 mg phosphorus
59.2 mg magnesium

Quinoa is non-GMO, gluten free and usually grown organically. It is rich in fiber (mostly of insoluble fiber), is a good source of manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.

As a vegan, protein is often a huge issue and cause of concern that comes up. (I have written a post all about it HERE) This is because of the minimal sources of complete protein found in plant. Rest assured, quinoa to the rescue! Quinoa contains all essential amino acids, and thus makes for a great source of protein. Compared to other grains which are relatively low in lysine and isoleucine , quinoa has significantly more amounts of both of these amino acids.

In addition to being a good source of protein, quinoa is also rich in overall phytonutrients and antioxidants (particularly the flavonoids: quercetin and kaempferol).  As a result quinoa provides great anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-oxidant benefits such as reducing the risk of cancer, decreasing the risk of allergies and the symptoms associated with allergies (especially with celiac disease or people with a gluten-intolerance). Additionally it is low on the glycemic index and thus is great for blood sugar stability and people suffering from diabetes and heart disease.

WAYS TO ENJOY

Consume it like you would with any other grain! I just love how light it is, yet it is still super filling, nutritious, and so yummy. Quinoa can come in it’s natural seed form, found blended into flours, or made into pasta form.

In a salad

If you have leftovers from making a big batch, simply add it to any salad the next day. Perfect to take as a packed lunch to work or school. Otherwise, heat it up if you want something a little bit warmer and hearty.

Buddha Bowl

Also known as ‘hippie’ or macro bowls because it is a bowl full of healthy and essential nutrients. Typically buddha bowls are hearty and filling and are made with various raw or cooked greens and other veg, a grain (which in this case would be quinoa), and then topped with your choice of dressing and any other additional ingredients such as nuts or seeds. My favourite ingredients to add to a buddha bowl would include: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chickpeas, carrots, beets, cabbage, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, avocado, hummus, pesto, or a tahini dressing. (I’m drooling…)

Breakfast porridge

This is somewhat new to me, but yes quinoa can be eaten for breakfast. Instead of other grains you would normally use for porridge, try quinoa instead! Cook it with plant-based milk and then top it with cinnamon, maple syrup, vanilla, fresh berries and/or nuts and seeds.

FUN FACTS

  • 2013 was declared “International Year of Quinoa” by the United Nations General Assembly.
  • Quinoa has become popular in the Jewish community due to it being a great substitute for other grains that are forbidding during Passover.
  • There are around 120 known varieties of quinoa!
  • The small ‘string’/’tail’ you see coming from the seed when cooked is actually the germ of the seed.
  • Red quinoa holds its shape better once cooked, thus is great for salads.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES / REFERENCES 

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