It’s been called the “mother of all grains,” and with good reason. Quinoa is a gluten-free and protein-packed grain that’s exploded in popularity recently. South America, and specifically Peru, remains the highest producer of the grain. Of the 70,000 metric tons produced worldwide each year, 41,000 are from Peru.
If it’s already part of your diet, you know why an increasing number of products, grocery store shelves, and fine-dining recipes contain quinoa. If you’ve never tried it, it’s time you did.
Quinoa hasn’t been studied as extensively as other grains, so research on its health benefits is limited. But its nutritional profile is known — and it’s quite impressive.
Quinoa is a good source of protein. As a matter of fact, it is a “complete” protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. Its protein content makes it a great choice for vegetarians too. It can easily be added to recipes like this tabbouleh salad or this Mediterranean quinoa salad.
- Quinoa is technically not a cereal grain, but a pseudo-cereal, or seed — something that’s eaten and used like a cereal grain, despite a different botanical profile.
- It’s more closely related to foods like spinach and beets.
Though quinoa doesn’t have much fat, it does have more than other common grains. One hundred grams of dried quinoa contains 6.3 grams of fat, compared with 2.3 grams in wheat and 2.2 grams in rice. But this isn’t just any fat. Approximately one-quarter of the fat in quinoa comes from oleic acid, a monounsaturated or “good” fat with cardiovascular benefits. It also contains alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat.
The fiber content of quinoa is generally higher than other common grains, though it’s lower than that of legumes. Most of this fiber is soluble, which can help lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.
It’s often used as a gluten alternative because or in place of other, less-healthy choices because it’s naturally gluten-free.
Quinoa in Your Kitchen
Quinoa is a versatile kitchen ingredient. You can put it in soups, salads, and casseroles. You can use it in recipes as a substitute for oats, rice, pasta, and other common carbohydrates.
Though some people grind it up while dry to make a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour, it’s most often cooked.
To cook quinoa, start with a good rinsing. Quinoa naturally has a bitter coating, though it’s been removed from most quinoa sold in the United States. Rinse it several times before putting it in the pot, just in case. Add two parts water to one part quinoa and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for approximately 15 minutes. You know quinoa is ready because the germ of the seed, which is white and circular, comes loose from the kernel.
Experiment with white, red, and black varieties of quinoa for a wide variety of dishes and flavors. You can cook it with broth, add some herbs, and create a simple, nutritious side dish. Or, put it in a casserole as you would normally use rice.
This quinoa and turkey stuffed pepper recipe uses quinoa in a dish that traditionally contains rice, upping its nutritional profile. Instead of oatmeal, try cherry quinoa porridge which contains more protein and is a great way to start the day.