Quinoa, the Mother Grain
Get to know all there is about Quinoa in this illuminating post by Hannah including:-
- History of Quinoa
- The Health Benefits
- How to Cook
- What are Quinoa Flakes?
- How About Quinoa Flour?
- Paleo Diet Fit
What is Quinoa?
So, if you haven’t heard about this wonderful superfood called quinoa, then your life (and your cookbook) is about to change.
2013 was named the International Year of the Quinoa by the United Nations, so we thought it was about time we gave you a proper introduction. It’s the subject of much confusion amongst even some of us who have heard of it but hopefully we can clear a few things up.
Firstly, it is pronounced ‘keen-wah’ and is actually a seed. It is extremely high in protein, which makes it an attractive option for vegetarians and is also gluten free.
Secondly, a weird and wonderful fact about quinoa is that it is a psuedocereal- meaning it is not a grass, as a true cereal is though it’s used in pretty much the same way as a cereal and belongs to the same food family as beetroot and spinach- that’s right!
Here’s Some History on Quinoa
Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, which covers parts of Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador, in 3000 BC. The appealing quality about quinoa was that it is able to withstand a variety of conditions, so wouldn’t spoil in extreme climates of heavy rain or sun.
The seeds grow from long grass-like stalks that flower (red or purple) before going to seed. Harvesting is usually done by hand and involves collection of the stalks and threshing to remove the seeds, which are then dried and stored. After this they are washed to remove the bitter layer containing saponins.
The seed was also, in addition to maize, the stronghold food for the Inca Empire in 1200 AD and to the Incas seen as sacred, supplementing their diet of potato and corn with quinoa. I was also really interested to learn of the special name the Incas had for quinoa- Chisaya Mama- meaning ‘Mother Grain’.
More recently, quinoa has become increasingly popular in the United States and UK, despite not being cultivated here. The large majority of quinoa consumed still comes from South America – in fact in 2013, 99% of all quinoa consumed came from South American countries.
There are different varieties of quinoa and the colour of it can range from red to black to pale yellow- so don’t panic if you suddenly stumble across some red seeds you think are pretending to be quinoa!
The Health Benefits
Increasingly popular amongst vegans and vegetarians, quinoa is a complete protein meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, one being lysine, which aids in tissue repair and growth.
It is packed full of immune enhancing minerals such as zinc and manganese (one cup of quinoa contains more than 60% of your daily required amount) and contains more calcium than cow’s milk. That’s pretty cool to think that this little seed has so many nutritional benefits!
FACT: did you know that quinoa is considered so nutrient dense that NASA even included it in the diets of astronauts when they travelled into space!
Quinoa can be described as looking like a cross between rice and couscous, however its texture is quite different. The seed is much crunchier, even after being cooked, so don’t panic if you feel as if you’ve been cooking it for ages and it’s still got a crunch to it! I’ve found this especially true of the red variety for some reason.
Although being similar to rice, it is a nice substitute for it in terms of nutritional value and if you’re just looking to switch up your meals. Much like rice, quinoa absorbs the liquid during cooking and swells in size and takes on a translucent appearance.
Before cooking, it’s best to rinse your quinoa to remove most traces of saponin, which could give it a bitter taste. Then simply drain the quinoa thoroughly before going on to cook.
The measurement you need to go by is 1 1/2 parts of water to 1 part of quinoa.
It’s the perfect ingredient to add into salads for some extra fibre and can be ideal for feeding lots of mouths because of how simple and quick it is to make!
This is one of my favourites:
Quinoa and Black Bean Salad:
1 1/2 cups quinoa
4 1/2 cups of water
1 tsp. Lucy Bee Coconut Oil
1 red pepper
380g black beans, drained
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 garlic clove
Juice of half a lemon
1 handful chopped coriander
Add the quinoa to a saucepan along with the water and Lucy Bee, bring to the boil then simmer for approx 15 minutes until the quinoa has absorbed the liquid and is cooked. Set aside to cool.
Whilst that is cooking, drain the black beans and chop up the pepper and cucumber into small pieces.
In a separate bowl, mix together the olive oil, ground cumin, garlic and lemon for the dressing.
Add the cooked quinoa to a large bowl with the chopped pepper, cucumber and the black beans. Mix together.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad and garnish with chopped coriander.
Now, one of the reasons why we love this food so much is because of the wide variety it offers to those who follow a gluten free lifestyle. Quinoa is available not only as a seed but also as quinoa flour and quinoa flakes.
What are quinoa flakes?
Quinoa flakes are basically quinoa seeds which have been rolled flat to form a flake.
I enjoy using quinoa flakes for breakfast to make porridge. A simple recipe is to add boiling water to the flakes and let it simmer for only a couple of minutes- using a 3:1 ratio of water to flakes.
I also add a small amount to my smoothies in the morning for some extra fibre to keep me feeling fuller throughout the whole morning.
Another delicious breakfast inspiration recipe is using quinoa flakes in pancakes to give it a light and fluffy texture and at the same time fueling your body with goodness. Below we created a recipe using quinoa flakes to allow you to indulge in the mornings. Hopefully this can inspire you to create your own at home!
1 large egg
A splash of almond milk (check out our recipe page to make your own)
1 tbsp. quinoa flakes
1 tsp. Lucy Bee Coconut Oil
2 tbsp. Greek/dairy free yoghurt (optional)
Mash up the banana in a bowl and add together all of the ingredients. Whisk together. Add a teaspoon of Lucy Bee to a frying pan and pour the pancake mixture onto the pan.
Flip after a couple of minutes.
Add some strawberries and yoghurt to the cooked pancakes for garnish.
How about quinoa flour?
Quinoa flour is merely ground, unprocessed quinoa seeds.
It might be advisable to mix quinoa flour with another flour eg. Rice flour, otherwise it can be quite dense.
It’s a great alternative ingredient for recipe making, particularly bread! So if any of you have struggled with the torment of gluten free bread then you will know what I mean when I say it sometimes seems impossible for it not to crumble in your hands.
However, high amounts of protein are said to help give gluten free bread some structure when cooking, and since quinoa is our favourite go-to protein source, this could be the answer!
Quinoa and a Paleo Diet
A pretty common question about quinoa is where it fits in with a paleo diet, considering the lifestyle encourages an avoidance of grains and quinoa is considered to be similar to (but not officially) a grain.
Those who follow this lifestyle mirror the dietary patterns of the Paleolithic era, mainly eating like hunter-gatherers.
Loren Cordain, founder of the Paleo diet and author of the book ‘The Paleo Diet’, enumerates quinoa as one of the pseudocereals to avoid citing grains in general as having a high glycemic index (which is what causes blood sugar level spikes). The GI level is actually 53, which is considered low (below55).
In addition to that, he heeds caution with quinoa in the paleo diet because of the coating found on the seed- saponin- claiming that this can be harsh to the stomach possibly causing inflammation and a leaky gut. However, recent research1 published in the April 2014 edition of the “Journal of Food Science” has contradicted this and many paleo enthusiasts do include quinoa in their diet.
Are There Any Downsides to this Super Food?
Generally, quinoa isn’t considered to be an allergenic food but being a member of the Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae plant family (as is spinach and chard), it contains oxalates.
These are naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals and humans and if during the digestive process your gut cannot digest them properly, you can end up with a variety of health issues, such as inflammed joints, kidney stones or hives, to name but a few.
Therefore, anyone that needs to restrict their diet in this way should take caution.
Looking back at the facts
- Quinoa comes in many forms, shapes and colours
- It is very rich in protein and fibre
- It has more calcium in one serving than in a glass of milk
- An ancient food source that was once considered sacred
- Contains oxalates
- Cooked in a similar way to rice
- It is gluten-free and suitable for vegetarians and vegans
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