Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Many Benefits of Quinoa

Behold, quinoa. Pronounced keen-wah.

A seed that acts as a grain. A "grain" that is (bonus!) gluten free. A pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, as it is not grass. Cooked just like rice. It is delicious plain, but with the many recipes either for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the options and possibilities where quinoa is concerned are endless.

It originated in the Andean region of South America and, though little known or recognized in the United States, it has actually been an important food for at least 6,000 years. But since we're in 2007, I'm gonna skip the history and go into the vast nutritional benefits. Called a supergrain, quinoa is highly nutritious and can supply us with all of the body's requirements: carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

First of all, the protein content is very high, being 12-22.1%. Unlike wheat and rice, it is high in lysine, and actually has a balanced set of all the essential amino acids needed by humans, making it a complete protein. It takes less quinoa protein to meet one's protein needs than wheat protein. It is gluten free and considered easy to digest. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa possesses larger quantities of calcium, fat, iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins than many other grains. One-half cup of dry quinoa contains 51 mg of calcium, compared to 28 mg in the same quantity of whole-wheat grains. The protein content is a whopping 11 g for that one-half cup of quinoa. Potassium is impressively high with 629 mg, as is zinc with 2.8 mg. Other impressive figures include 42 mcg of folic acid, 7.9 mg of iron, and 179 mg magnesium. In the category of fiber quinoa rates top scores with 5 grams for one-half cup dry grain. One cup of cooked quinoa has a calcium content equal to that of a quart of milk, but being from a plant source and first hand rather than second hand, is more eaily absorbed and better quality.

Also, quinoa is high in minerals and B vitamins, especially vitamin B6. Two ounces of cooked quinoa offers 14% of the RDA for B6. Niacin, one of the B vitamins usually measured in trace quantities, totals 2.49 mg, a figure considered impressive when it comes to the B vitamins.

Quinoa grains have a unique coating called saponin that serves as a protection from birds and the intense rays of the altiplano sun during growth. Unless these saponins are removed, the grain will taste quite bitter and is actually toxic. Before quinoa reaches the marketplace, most of the saponins have already been removed. To fully enjoy your quinoa, simply put the grains into a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water for one to two full minutes. This guarantees a delicately sweet pleasant flavor to the cooked grains. Cooking quinoa couldn't be easier. It is an easy food to prepare, has a light, fluffy texture when cooked, and its mild, slightly nutty flavor makes it an alternative to white rice or couscous. Measure 1 cup (237 ml) of grain, rinse in a fine mesh strainer, and put the grains into a 2-quart (2 liter) saucepan. Add 2 cups (480 ml) water and salt to taste. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to low and steam for 15 to 20 minutes. Use quinoa in place of any rice dish and enjoy its unique light, chewy texture and airy flavor.
As quinoa cooks, the germ is released from the exterior of the grain and forms a tiny spiral. You'll recognize it easily by its white coloring and sproutlike appearance. The grain's tender chewiness is attributed to this uncommon life-bearing germ.
For a richer flavor, quinoa can be toasted in a dry skillet for a few minutes before cooking. Stir continuously during the toasting to prevent burning and to toast the grains evenly.
Because quinoa is so quick cooking, it works well as a hearty breakfast cereal for adults as well as infants and children. We've found it ideal for grain and fresh vegetable salads, the perfect grain accompaniment to any dinner dish, and a delightful grain as a replacement for the rice in rice pudding.

Vegetables and seasonings can also be added to make a wide range of dishes. It is also suited to vegetable pilafs, complementing bitter greens like kale.
Quinoa can serve as a high-protein breakfast food mixed with honey, almonds, or berries; it is also sold as a dry product, much like corn flakes.
As a snack food, Quinoa can be toasted in a dry pan over medium heat until it is browned and mixed with granola, fruit (fresh or dried), coconut, or just eaten by itself.
Quinoa flour can be used in wheat-based and gluten-free baking. For the latter, it can be combined with sorghum flour, tapioca, and potato starch to create a nutritious gluten-free baking mix. A suggested mix is three parts quinoa flour, three parts sorghum flour, two parts potato starch, and one part tapioca starch. Quinoa flour can be used as a filling for chocolate.

Lastly, quinoa may be germinated in its raw form to boost its nutritional value. Germination activates its natural enzymes and multiplies its vitamin and mineral content. In fact, quinoa has a notably short germination period: only 2-4 hours resting in a glass of clean water is enough to make it sprout and release gases, as opposed to, eg., 12 hours overnight with wheat. This process, besides its nutritional enhancements, softens the grains, making them suitable to be added to salads and other cold foods.


bee said...

Thanks for this informative post on Quinoa. Have used it only couple of times and may use it more now. Also thanks for adding us on the technorati fan list. --Jai

VeganJacks said...

Awesome! Glad it was helpful and thank you so much for stopping by! :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for post - quick question - do you know if its suitable for 9 month old baby to eat - i know the flakes are but i'm talking about the boiled grain?


Jenny said...

Very beneficial info! I love Quinoa and use it frequently! I love it in stir frys, shakes, meat mixtures such as taco's. My four children love it! I also fed this to my babies, blended or pureed. Thanks again...I'm adding your blog to my favorites! If interested check out my blog @ www.happyhealthycooking.blogspot.com

Bob said...

Oatmeal has been a breakfast staple for years, but recently I tried hot quinoa cereal. As with oatmeal I add blueberries, raisans, almonds, a little cinamon and topped with a little granola. I'm 6'5" tall, weigh 215 and work out regularly, so I need a lot of fuel.

What I noticed is a bowl of quinoa makes me feel sated immediately. I don't feel like I'm starving at noon. So far so good.

This is the weird thing. The weather has changed here in Colorado and I often feel cold. Yesterday my co-workers were complaining how cold the office was and I didn't feel it at all. Is there something about the easy to digest protein source that is improving my circulation?

adlr said...

Hi, I have a question. You say, "One cup of cooked quinoa has a calcium content equal to that of a quart of milk, but being from a plant source and first hand rather than second hand, is more eaily absorbed and better quality."

According to nutritiondata.com, 1 cup cooked quinoa has about 30mg calcium vs. about 300mg for a quart of milk.

I'm wondering if there are any references about calcium absorption, or anything else I'm missing, that might back up the claim that quinoa gets your body more calcium than milk.


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