Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is an ancient South American plant that has been cultivated in the Andes Mountains for 3,000 to 5,000 years. Dating back to at least the Incan civilization, they knew is as chisaya mama or "mother of all grains." Many varieties have been selectively bred over the centuries to withstand the harsh growing climates of the region which includes high altitude, freezing temperatures, intense sunlight and poor soils. Although it is grown and used primarily as a grain, it is not in the grass family, and therefore not a true grain. As a member of the Goosefoot family, quinoa is actually more closely related to beets, orach and spinach. With an increase in awareness about gluten allergies or sensitivities and diseases such as celiac disease, interest in quinoa is on the rise since it is gluten free.
In addition to eating quinoa seeds, young leaves are quite nutritious and can be harvested and eaten either raw or as a cooked green.
Used as a grain, the flavor of quinoa seeds can range from bland to nutty and delicious. Lightly roasting before cooking enhances the flavor. According to the USDA's Nutrition Database, quinoa contains a
nearly perfect protein for human consumption. It actually is a good substitute for meat as a source for dietary protein and contains essential amino acids like lysine. It is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, and iron.
Quinoa seeds naturally have a powdery coating called saponin which is bitter and must be rinsed off prior to use. Most quinoa that you purchase at the store that is intended for consumption has already been processed but some residue, may still be present. taking the extra step to rinse prior to cooking is not that big of a deal and can mean the difference between a meal you will enjoy and one that your family or friends won't like.
To rinse, simply place your measured amount into a fine mesh strainer and run warm to hot water through them. The heat helps dissolve the saponins. You will see foamy, milky water coming off of the seeds. Continue until the water is clear. Your quinoa is now ready for your recipe.
Comparative mineral nutrition values of quinoa seeds and
leaves with other major seed and leafy vegetable crops.
Amino acid composition of quinoa compared with wheat, soybean, skimmed milk, and amino acid requirements of humans.