I'm quite intrigued by Quinoa. I've discovered it only recently but I already love it and it seems I'm not the only one! Internet is full of recipes (some better than others) but there's little known about Quinoa itself, despite the fact that it has been known to people for few thousand years now... So, to find out more about this fantastic ingredient I've done some research and decided to put it all together for you (something similar I've already done in the topic of FLOUR).
2013 has been declared International Year of Quinoa by the United Nations.
The year 2013 has been declared "The International Year of the Quinoa" (IYQ), recognizing the Andean indigenous peoples, who have maintained, controlled, protected and preserved quinoa as food for present and future generations thanks to their traditional knowledge and practices of living well in harmony with mother earth and nature.
The International Year of the Quinoa (IYQ) was proposed by the government of Bolivia, with support from Argentina, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Georgia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, and FAO, and approved by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2011. The Conference took note of the exceptional nutritional qualities of quinoa, its adaptability to different agro-ecological floors and its potential contribution in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
While Quinoa is often referred to as a grain, it is in fact a seed. Botanically it’s related to spinach, beetroot and chard, and like it’s relatives, in addition to the edible seed, the leaves can be eaten as well. Quinoa grows on stalks of between three to nine feet tall. The large seed heads can vary in colour, from red, purple and orange to green, black or yellow. Having said that, I’ve only ever seen white for sale in Ireland (would like to buy red or purple quinoa - as it would look great in any kind of dish!).
2. Quinoa origins
Quinoa is believed to have originated from the Peruvian Andes and has been cultivated for over 5,000 years by local cultures. Most notable of which was the Incan’s, who referred to it as the “mother of all grains”. It originated in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, where it was successfully domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago for human consumption, though archeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding some 5,200 to 7,000 years ago.
3. Quinoa was almost wiped out by Spanish conquerors
The Incan’s had always treated Quinoa as a sacred grain, and as a result almost all of their ceremonies involved the use of Quinoa. When the Spanish set out to conquer the Incan empire in 1532 they destroyed the crops in order to undermine it. The conquerors then also made it illegal to grow Quinoa. As a result, only small crops of Quinoa at high altitudes survived, and Quinoa was all but forgotten about until it’s rediscovery in the 1970′s.
4. It’s considered a super crop
With just 500 grams of seeds a full acre of the crop can be planted which will produce between 1.2 to 2 tonnes of new seeds. Since quinoa is also drought resistant, and grows well on poor soils, without irrigation or fertiliser, it has been designated as a “super crop” by the United Nations, for its potential to help feed the hungry poor of the world.
5. It has a weird name
Not sure how to pronounce Quinoa? It is pronounced “keen-wah”. It's also known as a "Peruvian rice".
6. It’s nutritionally rich
Quinoa was of great importance in the diet of pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, secondary only to the potato, and was followed in importance by maize. In contemporary times, quinoa has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (14% by mass), yet not as high as most beans and legumes. Nutritional evaluations of quinoa indicate that it is a source of complete protein.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories and provides the following nutrients:
8.2 g protein
40 g carbohydrate
31 mg calcium
2 mg Zinc
2.75 mg Iron
120 mg magnesium
5.2 grams dietary fiber
Given it’s protein and iron content it’s especially good for vegetarians and vegans.
7. Quinoa is gluten free!
If you are on a gluten free diet it’s worth trying Quinoa. It’s also easy to digest.
8. Unwashed Quinoa can taste bitter
Quinoa is coated in a natural compound called saponins (a soap like substance). This compound help protect it while it is growing and ensures the seed is not eaten by birds, as saponin produces a bitter taste. As a result Quinoa needs to be washed before being eaten. While most commercially sold Quinoa is pre-washed, it’s worthwhile rinsing Quinoa before cooking just to make sure it contains no saponins. In South America, the saponin coating on Quinoa is used as a detergent to wash clothes and also as an antiseptic.
9. Quinoa can be cooked in a rice cooker
While most recipes tend to refer to stovetop cooking, Quinoa can in fact be cooked in a rice cooker, using the same water quantities and setting that you would use to cook rice. I haven’t tried this method yet, but will the next time I make Quinoa. One cup of quinoa uncooked will be about three cups cooked.
10. Quinoa can be germinated to boost it’s nutritional value
Germinating Quinoa activates natural enzymes and multiplies the vitamin content. Better yet, the germination period is short, requiring only 2 to 4 ours soaking in water to make it sprout. Germination makes Quinoa soft, making it great for use in salads.
11. Ways to eat quinoa
Just plain - Quinoa has a lovely nutty flavor, and it can cook in less than 20 minutes, so we think it's a great alternative to pasta or rice for a quick meal.
Stuffed into vegetables - Quinoa makes a great stuffing.
Substituted for another grain - Quinoa has a similar texture when cooked to other fine and fluffy grains like bulgur wheat. So it's great substituted in dishes that call for bulgur, pearl barley, cous cous.
In a grain salad - Quinoa is a fabulous base for easy, quick, filling grain salads.
For breakfast - Quinoa's high protein content and quick cooking time make it a great breakfast! Try it with a little maple syrup and a handful of nuts, or with a fried egg on top!
12. Recipes using quinoa:
"Grains, Pulses & Pasta"
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations