What Is Quinoa

What is quinoa if not a grain? Pronounced "keenwa," it is what's called a pseudocereal because it does not come from a grass plant. Quinoa is more closely related to leafy greens like chard and spinach. The small, round seeds of the plant are what is eaten. In color, quinoa is usually white or pale yellow but can be red or black. When cooked they fluff up dramatically but have a slightly crunchy texture. Quinoa is a good substitute for rice. It has unique nutritional value and a long history.

Quinoa as far as history goes begins in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Chili and Bolivia in South America. The plant grows well in high altitudes and doesn't need a lot of water. Quinoa has been cultivated since 3000 B.C. It was a popular food for traveling armies. Soldiers would mix it with fat into what were called "war balls." The Incas came to consider quinoa a sacred food. In the 1500s, the Spanish tried to subjugate the Incas by destroying the quinoa crops and made it illegal to grow it on pain of death. But this plan ultimately failed because quinoa's popularity is growing today. In the 1980s, two Americans realized its potential and began to grow it in Colorado. 

The question of what is quinoa could not be answered completely without mentioning the nutritional value. Quinoa is the best of all worlds in many ways. Protein content ranges from ten to eighteen percent and is a complete protein. This means all nine of the essential amino acids are present. Quinoa is often recommended for vegans who are concerned about protein intake. Calcium and iron levels are higher than in corn, rice, wheat and oats and high amounts of manganese, phosphorous, magnesium and copper exist as well. This varied mineral content makes quinoa a good food to help combat diabetes and migraine headaches. 

Sapotins contained in the seed coat can be damaging to the intestines, causing their ability to extract nutrients from food to diminish. The seed coat can be removed with water and is done so by mechanical abrasion in most of the quinoa found in stores. In South America, the seed coat is often used as laundry detergent. Quinoa with the sapotins still attached has a bitter flavor. A method of cooking quinoa involves one cup of quinoa to two cups of water. Once the mixture begins to boil the heat should be reduced. The cooking is complete when the seeds are translucent and the germ has begun to slide off in a spiral pattern. 

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