Quinoa 101: Everything You Need To Know About This Nutritious & Delicous Superfood

This year, 2013. has been declared as the “International Year of Quinoa” by the United Nations General Assembly.  If that isn’t a reason for you to try quinoa I am not sure what is!

I fell in love with this supergrain or superfood about 3 years ago and have enjoyed at least 50 different dishes containing quinoa as the main ingredient (I will share many at the end of this post).   Quinoa is certainly a staple in the diet of my family, even though I may be the only one who knows it.  So, are you curious about quinoa?  Are you wondering what the heck it is and how to cook it?  If so, read on…..

Discovering quinoa:

If you haven’t heard of quinoa or haven’t tried it, no worries, you are not alone.  I had never even heard of quinoa until a friend Box of Quinoamine slipped me a box while our kids were playing.  She encouraged me to just ‘try it!’.   I was skeptical of these tiny yellow balls but I trusted my friend and took it home with me.  My first time preparing quinoa I made a basic quinoa salad that my friend recommended (pretty much pasta salad minus the pasta).  It turned out really yummy and my entire family enjoyed it.

Quinoa certainly peaked my interest that evening and this was the beginning of my relationship with quinoa (yes, I said relationship).  Quinoa is such an amazing and versatile food, it can be incorporated into almost any dish.  Quinoa can be eaten hot or cold in soups, salads, casseroles, or as a side dish.  I even use it in baked goods.  Quinoa is also gluten-free, you can find it ground into flour for gluten-free baking, pastas and more!  I still get really excited when I am inspired by a new quinoa recipe on Pinterest.

I suppose you are interested in quinoa because you are reading this, right?  So here we go, let’s start at the beginning.

History of quinoa:

Quinoa (“Qin-wah”) was domesticated by the Andean people about 3000 years ago. The Incas held the quinoa crop to be sacred and referred to it as the “mother of all grains” (nice!).   The new Spanish colonists deemed quinoa to be “food for Indians” and forced the Incas to grow wheat.  Because of this, quinoa production drastically slowed and was even halted for a time.  Thankfully production is no longer restricted, in fact the price of quinoa has tripled since 2006 due to increased demand.

photo credit:  cookwithquinoa.com
photo credit: cookwithquinoa.com

Over the last few decades quinoa has been making a comeback.  Most quinoa consumed in the United States today still comes from South America.  Peru and Bolivia  produced nearly 99% of all commercially grown quinoa in 2010.  The popularity of quinoa is not only good for our health it is good for the farmers producing it:

As the industry has grown, the government has invested in local infrastructure to support the community – from access to electricity, to better roads, schools and health. That’s happened because quinoa growers have gained legitimacy in the eyes of the government and are able to negotiate rural development policies. –mnn.com

What the heck is quinoa?:

Quinoa cooks like a rice and looks like couscous.  It has way more protein and fiber therefore leaving you feeling full for a long time.  Quinoa comes in many colors, including red and black, but the yellow seeds are most common.

Certified fair trade quinoa producers in Ecuador. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Certified fair trade quinoa producers in Ecuador. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

While quinoa is usually considered to be a whole grain, it is actually a seed.  Quinoa is a member of the same food family that contains spinach, Swiss chard, and beets.  There are many researchers that refer to quinoa as a “pseudocereal.”   Pseudocereal is a term that is typically used to describe foods that are not grasses but can still be easily ground into flour. The scientific name for quinoa is Chenopodium quinoa.  This is all still rather confusing to me so I simply say quinoa is pure awesomeness

Nutritional value of quinoa:

Quinoa is high protein quality and is typically regarded as a source of all essential amino acids, or a complete protein. This plant-based complete protein is great for all people including those who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet.  There are many animal based complete proteins but plant-based complete proteins are more limited.

I found this over at Built Lean.

photo credit:  builtlean.com
photo credit: builtlean.com

Here are a few very helpful charts I found over at fao.org.

Mineral content of quinoa:

photo credit:  fao.org
photo credit: fao.org

Comparison of essential amino acid profiles:

photo credit:  fao.org
photo credit: fao.org

So you can see that quinoa really is good for you!  There are several health benefits to eating quinoa, such as:  reducing the risk of diabetes, controlling blood pressure, and it lowers cholesterol.  If you would like to see a more in-depth nutritional profile you can find it over at WHFoods.

Are you ready to try quinoa now?  If so,  keep reading….

How to cook quinoa?:

Quinoa 101

First thing first.  What does quinoa taste like?  I found the best answer over at Dietriffic.com:

The taste and texture of quinoa is a bit like brown rice crossed with oatmeal. It’s fluffy, creamy, crunchy and somewhat nutty, all rolled into one.

Quinoa is tasty on its own and will absorb any flavor you mix it with.  You can easily start cooking with quinoa by using it in place of your favorite rice or pasta.

Before you cook your quinoa wash it.  Most commercial brands have already been washed to remove a chemical called saponin that can be found on the surface of quinoa.  I have read that Saponin has a somewhat bitter, soapy taste (yuck!). Simply, rinse the quinoa off just as you would with rice before you cook it up.

You can cook quinoa in a saucepan, rice cooker, or by toasting it over low heat.  You cook your quinoa with this ratio: 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid (ex:  1 cup quinoa to 2 parts of liquid).  For even more flavor I like to use broth or milk (for a creamy consistency) instead of water.

I usually prepare quinoa by bringing the liquid and quinoa to a boil in a saucepan then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed.  Quinoa is tasty on its own and will absorb any flavor you mix it with.  You can easily start cooking with quinoa by using it in place of your favorite rice or pasta.

Well, I hope that you have a better understanding of quinoa and would like to share with you a few of my favorite quinoa recipes (to see all of my quinoa recipes click here).

Oh, if you have a favorite recipe to share please let me know in the comments, thank you!

Spicy Black Bean & Quinoa Salad

spicy black bean and quiona salad

 Sweet Potato & Quinoa Meatless Meatballs

Quinoa Sweet Potato Meatballs

 Asian Toasted Quinoa Salad (Stir fry!)

Asian Toasted Quinoa Salad

 Quinoa Patties


 Mini Quinoa Pizza Bites


 Broccoli Cheese Quinoa Casserole

Broccoli Cheese Quinoa Casserole

 Spanish Quinoa

Spanish Quinoa


8 thoughts on “Quinoa 101: Everything You Need To Know About This Nutritious & Delicous Superfood

  1. You know I already LOVE quinoa and I love turning new people on to it. I’ll be making quinoa burgers this weekend and I’m trying to decide what to make with quinoa for a combo Thanksgiving/Singer Klaas meal I’ll be attending next weekend. Your peanut/ginger quinoa dish is still one of my favorites!

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