What is Quinoa? Everything You Need to Know!

Everything You Need to Know About Quinoa

QuionaFor a lot of people, quinoa is a food that is very new to them.  Although it was once considered nothing more than a niche crop, these days it is approaching mainstream.  Let’s take a look at just what is quinoa and why it is a food that you may wish to include in your diet.

Quinoa, pronounced “KEEN –wah”, is a member of the goosefoot family.  It is commonly referred to (and even labeled) as a whole grain, but quinoa is actually a seed and the fruit of a broadleaf plant. The correct term would be a pseudo grain, as it is a seed that is treated as a grain in cooking. Quinoa is gluten free and hypoallergenic, making it an ideal food for those with food allergies.

As a relative of spinach and beets, quinoa is a leafy green plant with leaves that can be used much like spinach.  However, when we refer to quinoa, we are talking about the quinoa seeds.  Quinoa is also available as quinoa flakes, in flour form and as pasta.

There are some 1800 varieties of quinoa seeds, in a range of colors and sizes.  The colors range from black to ivory, brown, red, green, yellow, orange and magenta.  The most commonly found color in North America is ivory, though red and black can also be found.  They are all similar nutritionally, though the darker colors are higher in photonutrients.

Quinoa flakes are similar to oatmeal and often used in baking or as a breakfast cereal.  Because it is high in histidine, an amino acid essential for children and babies, quinoa is becoming popular as a food source for weaning babies.  Quinoa flakes are very often the go to choice for this, because they are very soft.

Quinoa flour works well in many applications, although like many other whole grain and legume flours, it is best to substitute no more than half of the conventional flour in a recipe for quinoa flour.  The flour has a nutty flavor, though its aroma in the raw form can be a little off putting.  Luckily, this goes away with cooking!

Quinoa pasta is most often made with corn and is actually very good.  This is especially true for the spaghetti and linguine, which is very similar to white pasta.  Many people who have a hard time transitioning to the strong taste of whole grain pasta find that they enjoy quinoa pasta.  One caveat is that you do have to be more careful with cooking as over cooking or under cooking both quickly render the pasta inedible!

For most people, the decision to make quinoa a regular part of their diets is mostly because it is so nutritious.  Experts everywhere are talking about quinoa nutrition.  What makes quinoa stand out among other plant based foods is that it is a near perfect source of protein.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the protein quality is similar to that of dehydrated whole milk.  The amino acid profile is almost perfect, making it a complete source of protein. Quinoa is higher in iron and calcium that corn, wheat, barley, rice and oats.

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