Our friends at the Whole Grains Council kicked off 2010 with their clever Grain of the Month Calendar, a plan to honor an individual grain each month of the year. March is Quinoa month and we thought it might be a good time for a refresher course on the nutritional powerhouse known as quinoa.
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WA) is a high protein grain cultivated by the Incan tribes of the Andes mountains in South America. A traditional staple of the Incan diet, quinoa was known as the mother of all grains or chisaya mama. Because the native peoples of South America held the grain in such high regards, it was scorned by Spanish conquerers and fell into obscurity until a revival of the grain in the 1970s.
Lucky for us that the grain did find its way into the kitchens of 1970s America. Not only is it delicious, but quinoa has a short cooking time which sets it apart from many whole grains. Unlike many other whole grains, quinoa cooks in just 15 minutes! This tiny , gluten-free grain delivers all of the essential amino acids and is a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus and iron. People often talk about the bitter saponins in the seed coat of quinoa. Bob’s Red Mill quinoa has been pre-washed to remove this bitter coating. There are other brands that are not pre-washed, so be sure to check the label before consuming or you’ll be unpleasantly surprised. When cooked, quinoa is light and fluffy and has a very unique look. If you look very closely, you can see a lighter ring attached to the grain- this is quite simply the germ. It looks a little bit worm-like and is most noticeable on the black and red quinoa, but rest assured this is normal.
I’ve noticed quinoa on the menu at several of our local restaurants and in deli salads at places like Whole Foods- next time you see that funny q-word, see if you can sample some, you might just fall in love with this tiny grain.
If you’re not sure what to do with quinoa, we have some fabulous recipes on our website and you can get more info (we particularly liked their fun facts) and recipes for quinoa from the Whole Grains Council.
Here are some of our favorite recipes using quinoa: