I will never forget the first time I was introduced to quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah” in spanish). It was Thanksgiving Day, 2004. My husband and I were in Cuzco, Peru sitting in a very small restaurant a few blocks from our hotel. As our entrees were placed on the table, we noticed a very small, round grain on our plates that we had never seen before. Curious, I took a bite and the nutty, fluffy, creamy flavor was outstanding. I immediately stopped our waiter to ask him what it was. He went on to tell me that it was quinoa, indigenous to the area and eaten by the locals. From that day forth, I became a big fan of quinoa, especially after I found out how healthy it was.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a small, round, nutrient rich, grain-like crop that is mainly produced in South American countries where it has been a staple food for centuries. Many scientists refer to quinoa as a “pseudocereal” because even though it is not a part of the cereal grass family(wheat, oat, barley, rye), it is still eaten the same way as a grain and can even be ground into flour. As a bonus, since it is more closely related to beets, spinach and swiss chard, it is gluten-free. It’s benefits don’t stop at being gluten-free though. It’s nutritional profile is impressive enough that it is often called a superfood.
How is it a superfood?
Quinoa has an impressive, nutrient rich profile that easily places it in the superfood category. Here are the reasons why you should eat quinoa:
- Complete protein source: Unlike grains, such as wheat, quinoa contains all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source.
- Higher heart healthy fats: Quinoa contains a good amount of monounsaturated heart healthy fats like oleic acid and omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Good source of vitamins, trace elements and fiber: Quinoa contains tocopherols (vitamin E family member) which has anti-inflammatory benefits. It is also a good source of manganese, magnesium, tryptophan, copper, calcium, phosphorous and folate.
- Rich in antioxidants: When it comes to antioxidants, quinoa is a rockstar. Two of the antioxidant flavonoids it contains(quercetin and kaempferol) are said to be present in higher concentration than in nutrient rich berries, such as cranberry or lingonberry. Antioxidants are important in fighting free radicals, reducing cancer and heart disease risk.
Where can I find quinoa?
Quinoa has grown in popularity over the years and is now easily accessible at your local grocery store or natural food store. You can find quinoa prepackaged or in bulk bins. Usually, the type of quinoa you will find has an off white color, but red and black quinoa varieties are starting to become more available in stores.
How can it be used?
Quinoa is a great gluten free option that can be used in many dishes. So, try adding it to your salad, use it in vegetable soup, make it into pasta, grind it into flour and use it for baked goods (cookies, muffins, etc..), or just eat it plain next to your fish, chicken or meat. Anyway you prepare it, it’s very tasty and nutritious!
The bottom line:
Quinoa is an impressive food source, bursting with flavor and nutrition. It’s no surprise that the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations declared 2013 to be the “The International Year of Quinoa.” So, celebrate this year along with me by incorporating quinoa into your menu. I bet you’ll be hooked in no time!