An Introduction to the Superfood Quinoa

This versatile, gluten-free pseudo grain has captured the interest of food enthusiasts worldwide owing to its rich nutritional content and nutraceutical benefits.

Native to the South American Andes is the “mother grain” quinoa, which has been cultivated since 5000BC. Although, technically not a grain, the term “mother grain” was allotted by members of the ancient Incan armies who mixed quinoa with fat to help sustain them. Harvested together with corn and beans, quinoa was one of the few staple foods of the ancient Incans used in the creation of various soups and breads. In addition, it was brewed along with millet to produce chicha, a fermented beverage enjoyed on the occasion of a new harvest season. In additional to its dietary uses, it was used medicinally to treat bruises and sores.

Many historians strongly believe that the initial success of the Incan empire is attributed to their ability to carefully cultivate, store and distribute crops like quinoa to sustain their own tribe. Unfortunately, following the beginning of the Spanish conquest, quinoa crop fields were replaced with barley fields to yield Spanish beer as the crop was disparaged in Spanish culture. The once esteemed “mother grain” was no longer sacred. What followed was a four hundred year decline in the production of quinoa, save for in certain remote areas.

What Is Quinoa?

Contrary to popular belief, quinoa is not a member of grain family. Interestingly, its relatives include spinach, Swiss chard and beets. It is quite popular owing to its gluten free properties which make it favourable amongst individuals that suffer from allergies to common grains like rye and wheat. Quinoa is high in protein, iron, vitamin E, several B vitamins, fibre and good fats. The colour of quinoa ranges from black to brown, to red and even pink. When cooked, it softens and the outer germ curves to form a pseudo tail which is crunchy. This provides for a nutty, unbalanced crunchy texture which, enhances its taste compared to other whole grains.

Quinoa wasn’t introduced in Canada until the mid 1980s. Today however, quinoa is experiencing tremendous growth in Europe, the Far East, Canada and New Zealand.

The Nutritional Benefits Of This Wonder Grain

Quinoa features a host of different nutritional benefits. As mentioned earlier, it is both gluten and wheat free and an excellent carbohydrate option for hyperglycaemic individuals due to its low glycemic index. Further, it is deemed to be a complete protein as it happens to be the only “grain” that possesses all nine essential amino acids (including lysine). This has made it a popular choice amongst vegans and vegetarians. Moreover, the high fibre content of quinoa makes it great for salads or as a cereal substitute. Fibre promotes satiety and also helps with digestion, improving gastric motility and maintaining desirable bowl function.

Quinoa is rich in magnesium, which is important for cardiovascular function, riboflavin (B2), which is necessary for red blood cell production and function and copper that is vital to healthy hair and nail maintenance. Quinoa also contains a rich array of anti-oxidants that work to savage cancer causing free radicals. The super food also contains a variety of other minerals and vitamins such as zinc, selenium and vitamin E which help reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease all while improving cell function.

A Simple Quinoa Recipe

Quinoa can be found in many health food stores, grocery stores and bulk food shops. In Toronto, it is easily found at Essence of Life in Kensington Market, the Whole Foods Market and at Bulk Barn. It is generally cheaper when bought in bulk.

Nutritionally rich and gluten free for those of you with allergies, this mother grain is flavourful and definitely a worthy addition to one’s diet!

Here’s a recipe for a simple Quinoa salad.

Ingredients:

one cup finely chopped collard greens
three quarters of a cup cooked quinoa
two tablespoons flaxseeds
one tbsp pumpkin seeds
one teaspoon chia seeds
a quarter cup walnuts
half a cup minced cilantro
one cup diced red peppers

Dressing:

juice of two lemons
half a tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a quarter cup organic basil or sunflower seed pesto
black pepper, Celtic sea salt and green onions to taste
mint leaves to garnish

Method:

Rinse quinoa with cold water to remove saponins (bitter-coating). Bring 1.5 cups of water to a boil and add quinoa. Cook quinoa for about 10-15 minutes until curved tail is observed and grain becomes soft.
Mix cooked quinoa with diced peppers, green onions, finely chopped collards and cilantro.
Add pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds and mix well. Add Celtic sea salt, freshly ground pepper to taste.
In a small, separate bowl, combine olive oil, pesto and lemon juice.
Mix dressing in with quinoa salad.
Garnish with mint leaves and serve chilled.

Nutrition Information: Total Calories (256), Total Fat (17.3g), Carbohydrates (21.6g), Protein (8.7g), Sodium (31mg), Fibre (8.2g).

Claims: Very high in fibre, cholesterol free.

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