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Demystifying Ancient Grains: Quinoa

October 7, 2014

Get to Know Quinoa

Quinoa“While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom.” – Philip White

Quinoa’s recent rise in popularity is no surprise. With its exceptional balance of amino acids, high ratio of protein to carbohydrate, and the fact that it is 100 percent gluten-free – this grain deserves its “super crop” reputation.

History

Quinoa, sacred to the Incas and known as chisaya mama, or mother of all grains, is believed to have been cultivated at least five thousand years ago by Bolivians near Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mountains.

Aware of the grain’s extraordinary properties, the Incas used quinoa in almost all ancient rituals and ceremonies. Incan warriors even ate balls of quinoa and fat throughout long marches and battles to remain nourished and strong.

However, in 1532, the grain almost entirely disappeared when Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish explorer, destroyed the quinoa fields to diminish the Incan culture. Only small areas of wild quinoa at high altitudes in the Andes survived, and were therefore largely forgotten until the outside world rediscovered it in the 1970s.

What it is

While quinoa is similar to a grain, it is actually part of the Chenopodiaceae family, meaning it is much closer to greens (like chard), beets and spinach. It grows in large seed heads on magenta stalks that can grow from three to nine feet tall.

Quinoa has a natural covering called saponin, a bitter coating that keeps birds and animals away, and grows well on poor soils without irrigation or fertilizer– it’s even drought resistant! All reasons why the United Nations has designated quinoa as a “super crop.”

Over 120 different varieties of the grain are known, but the most commonly cultivated and commercialized are white, red and black quinoa.

Benefits

  • Quinoa is a complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids for a healthy balance
  • Has a high ratio of protein to carbohydrate content
  • Is the highest of all whole grains in potassium, which helps control blood pressure
  • Is a more nutritious option for gluten-free diets
  • Is useful in reducing risk for diabetes
  • Allows one to feel fuller longer
  • Click here for more health benefits and research on quinoa

Uses

Breakfast cereals, pastas, flours, breads, crackers, baby food, drinks and even shampoo – if there’s a way to add quinoa, people are doing it!

For culinary purposes, quinoa is easy to use. It is ready in roughly 15 minutes and has a subtle nutty taste that goes well with many ingredients. Most commonly, the pseudo-grain is bought as seeds, flakes or flour.

Recipes

Try quinoa in your next recipe and demystify this ancient grain yourself!

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Or for a special fall-flavored treat, try Pumpkin Baked Quinoa Bars!

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