Quinoa (pronounced as keen-wa) has been growing in popularity over the last few years. Indeed, some corporations are projecting it as the “super grain” of the future. Quinoa is a not a true grain, but is treated as one because of its cooking characteristics. Hence, it can substitute for nearly any grain in cooking. It is the seed of a leafy plant, the leaves resembling spinach and amaranth.
Quinoa is an ancient food, dating back to about 3,000 B.C. It has been an important staple food of the native inhabitants of the Andes region in South America. The countries where it is widely cultivated include Chile, Bolivia and Peru.
Quinoa is primarily grown for its nutritious seeds, which are also referred to as “little rice” in Peru. It is interesting to note that quinoa belongs to the time of the Inca civilization. The Incas of South America recognized its value when they noticed increased stamina of their warriors on a quinoa rich diet. So impressed were they with this amazing food, that they called it “the gold of the Incas”. They also considered it as sacred food and referred to is as the “mother seed”.
 Growth Conditions
The plant grows well in almost all type of conditions, however, a cool, arid climate is more favourable. Though Quinoa originally comes from the Andes region of South America, it is presently being grown in Canada and United States. But North American growers, so far, have not been able to match the quality of Quinoa that comes from the high mountains of South America. It grows best at high elevations, and when grown at lower elevations, it gives rise to a darker and bitter tasting variety. Quinoa has been tried to grow in pots in homes also but without much success at present.
 Cooking Characteristics
Quinoa, the pointed oval shaped grain is actually flat. It is cooked and eaten much like oatmeal. It cooks quicker than many other grains. The grains range in colour from pink to purple, light to dark yellow, brown to reds, or almost black depending on the variety. The texture is quite unique in the sense that the grain itself is smooth and creamy, but the tail of the grain has a crunchy texture.
When cooked, quinoa expands to about three or four times its size. But before cooking, it should be thoroughly washed to remove any powdery residue sticking to it. A common cooking method is to cook quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups of water to a boil with one cup of grain, covering and cooking at a low simmer. It usually takes 15 minutes to prepare quinoa using this method. On cooking, the grains become translucent, and the white germ separates from the seeds giving it a light, fluffy texture and a delicate, nutty flavour.
Other ways of eating quinoa include the uncooked form of the grain, where it is added to soups and stews. It can be dry toasted in a pan which gives it a roasted flavour. It can also be served as a breakfast food, the seeds can be sprouted and eaten raw, used in salads, combined with vegetables and quinoa flour can be used in a variety of baked products.
 Nutritional Value
Though quinoa is a very versatile food as we have discussed above, there is more to it that makes it the “new age” grain. It is rich in protein, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and other vitamins and minerals. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all eight essential amino acids. It is exceptionally high in lysine, cystine and methionine-amino acids which are typically low in other grains.
Quinoa is a good source of dietary fiber and is light, tasty and easy to digest. It is not a commonly allergenic food and has low gluten content.
Quinoa may be especially valuable for persons suffering from migraine, diabetes and atherosclerosis because of its high content of manganese and other minerals like magnesium, copper, phosphorous and iron.
Thus, with its unique protein content, presence of fiber, minerals and vitamins, ease in digestibility and versatility in cooking, quinoa is rightfully emerging as the “super grain” which is perfect for all seasons.
 Quinoa Products
Quinoa products are available on sale online from sites such as:
- QUINOA GRAIN ORGANIC 1 LB
- Quinoa Corporation
Site for recipes with quinoa:
- Quinoa Recipes
- wise GEEK
- Quinoa from the Andes