Why is everyone singing the praises of quinoa?
- While quinoa is used in recipes like it’s a grain, it is actually a seed that is botanically related to spinach, Swiss chard, and beets. So what does that mean from a nutrition point of view? Quinoa is lower in carbohydrate and higher in protein than whole grains. I’ve seen some online posts about how quinoa is higher in fat and calories compared to some grains, but consider quality and quantity! A cup of cooked quinoa offers 223 calories (compare to 176 calories for the same amount of couscous) but the quinoa has extra fibre (4 grams in 1 cup of quinoa and 2.2 grams in 1 cup of couscous) to help you feel more satisfied with less.
- The quality of the protein in quinoa is higher than other foods that come from plants because quinoa contains all 9 of the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Protein has many important functions in the body, such as building and repairing muscle, acting as antibodies that fight off bacteria and viruses, and transporting other nutrients around the body.
- Quinoa is rich in iron. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 2.76 mg of iron, about 20% of the amount that most people need each day. Iron is essential for preventing anemia as it plays an important role in red blood cell formation.
- Quinoa also packs 118 mg of magnesium, a mineral needed for strong bones and to prevent osteoporosis. Studies suggest that magnesium may help to reduce blood pressure. Magnesium may also help prevent migraines by improving oxygen delivery to the cell.
- Wondering what the difference is between the black, red and white varieties of quinoa? The black and red tend to have a nuttier flavour and crunchier texture. From a nutrition point of view, they are also slightly higher in fibre. I like to mix them all for a more interesting look.
How to Store
Dry quinoa: up to 2 years if in a well-sealed container
- In the fridge: up to 4 days
- In the freezer: up to 2 months
How to Prepare
Quinoa has a natural defense mechanism to protect it from being eaten by birds and other wildlife. It is coated with saponins, phytochemicals that can give the quinoa a bitter taste. Rinsing your quinoa before cooking can help to remove some of the saponins. Put the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse with water several times.
To get extra flavour from your quinoa, toast it before cooking in a saucepan over low heat. Then add water, stock or orange juice.
Use a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa (if making 1 cup of quinoa, you need 2 cups of water or broth). Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
How to Enjoy
I like to make extra quinoa to use during the week for quick lunches and as a side dish for fish and salad at dinner – or even as the base for a main course. Toss cooked quinoa with cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, red onion and herbs for a quick Greek-style salad or use to coat chicken, fish or tofu as a crispy, gluten-free alternative to bread crumbs.
Here is one of my favourite quinoa recipes that is loaded with vegetables and packs a flavour punch: Warm Mediterranean Quinoa Salad – Fully Loaded!
- The dark side of quinoa: Quinoa has been consumed in South America for over 5000 years as a staple food that provided protein and other nutrients for a relatively low cost. However, since the surge in popularity of quinoa in North America, the price has increased dramatically and local farmers can no longer afford to purchase it. The complexity of the food politics of quinoa were recently discussed by the CBC and Time Magazine.