Quinoa: The Grain-Like Seed

While many consider quinoa to be a grain, it is technically a seed; you could call it a grain-like seed. The quinoa plant is not commonly found in grocery stores, but it is similar to beets, spinach, and chard plants in that it has edible leaves. The most popular variety of the quinoa seed is yellow, but there are other varieties that range in color, including orange, pink, red, purple, or black. When quinoa is cooked, it is somewhat rice-like in texture; it’s fluffy, but has a slight crunch to it with a slightly nutty flavor.

Quinoa History

quinoa_on_spoon_picUnlike many types of grains, quinoa is relatively new to North America. However, it’s been produced and used in South America for centuries. The Native Americans of South America consumed quinoa as a staple food, and it was known to them to be the "mother seed." These people, particularly the Incan and Aztec people, believed eating quinoa would give them strength and stamina, and called it the "Gold of the Aztecs."

When Spanish explorers came along, they attempted to destroy the quinoa so they could destroy the natives and their culture. Any offenders who tried to produce quinoa were put to death. Hundreds of years later, two people from Colorado grew interested in quinoa and its healthful qualities and started growing it there. Since this happened, quinoa availability has greatly increased.

Health Benefits of Quinoa

Quinoa is nutritious and delicious! It’s a great source of magnesium—in fact, it has about three times as much magnesium as calcium. This is a healthy ratio, especially because most individuals get too much calcium and not enough magnesium, which leads to excess calcification in the joints and arteries, and even the chance of developing kidney stones increases significantly.

Magnesium is arguably one of the most important nutrients in the body. Those who don't get enough magnesium in their diets are more likely to have high blood pressure, blood clots, and an irregular heartbeat. Studies also show that people who suffer from migraine headaches are often deficient in magnesium in their brain cells, so getting enough magnesium from quality foods may help prevent headaches. Magnesium is an electrolyte that helps other electrolytes to do their jobs, getting them into cells and reducing the possibility of muscle cramps. So getting enough magnesium can be especially important for athletes and other active individuals.

quinoa_seed_raw_cooked_picAlso found in good supply in quinoa is manganese, iron, phosphorous, copper, zinc, vitamins B2 and E, and protein. Quinoa not only has a high protein content, but it also supplies all of the eight essential amino acids the body cannot produce on its own. Because of this, quinoa is a great protein source for vegetarians and vegans. And since quinoa is naturally gluten free, it’s a great grain alternative for sensitive people.

If you need more iron in your diet, this is the source for you. Iron is a mineral your blood needs to carry oxygen. When iron is deficient in the body, red blood cells can actually shrink, which means they are able to carry less oxygen to oxygenate the body, thereby requiring the heart and lungs to work harder to get sufficient oxygen through the body. Additionally, because of its iron content, quinoa is a great food for women in particular who tend to be low in iron or anemic.

Using Quinoa

When preparing quinoa, it's best to soak or thoroughly rinse the quinoa seeds prior to cooking it to remove any leftover saponins. This can be done by washing the seeds well in a fine-meshed strainer, running cold water over them and gently rubbing the seeds with your fingers. For perfectly cooked quinoa, add one part seed to two parts liquid in a saucepan. Bring the liquid and quinoa mix to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed. Quinoa preparation is that quick and simple!

When buying quinoa, as with any other seed or grain, it is important to check for moisture and that bulk bins are completely covered. Quinoa should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place where it will stay fresh for several months. It will keep even longer if kept in the fridge.

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