Originating in South America over 5,000 years ago, Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) was cultivated from an herbaceous flowering plant, grown for these edible seeds, which became a staple food in the Incan diet, much like potatoes have been.
Over the past few years, quinoa has become better known in the population, and has found its way onto most supermarket shelves, and a place in many kitchen pantries. Despite this, the facts, benefits and uses remain somewhat of a mystery to many people so…
Let’s talk Quinoa.
Quinoa packs a powerful nutrient punch for a very small seed, containing high amounts of protein, calcium and fibre, along with a host of other vitamins and minerals for good health. It is also gluten free; an appealing characteristic to many buyers with the rise in sufferers of coeliac disease (an inability to digest gluten – the protein found in wheat). Quinoa is lower in kilojoules than its equivalent serve per gram of other carbohydrates, such as rice or pasta, and its unique flavor and abundance of health benefits makes it a great alternative to these starches in a meal.
The three types of quinoa most commonly seen are white, red and black. The white variety is the most common, having, as some would describe, a “grassy like flavour” (it may sound a little unappetising but is delicious!), whilst both the red and black are slightly nuttier in taste. Quinoa can also come in the forms of flour and flakes; the former making a good substitute for all purpose white flour, perhaps in pasta making, and the latter producing a delicious porridge in place of traditional oats (which are not gluten free). The quinoa seeds can all be used for a number of dishes, primarily in any dish that you may use rice, pasta or couscous, and are very quick to cook. Personally, I love using it in salads. Below is a recipe for one of my favourite, quick and healthy salads that quinoa really lends itself to.
– ½ cup quinoa, cooked following packet directions (I usually do a 1:2 quinoa to water ratio)
– 1 bag baby spinach, washed
– 100g baby beetroots, diced (or as much as you like – canned is fine, just check for low sodium and no added sugar. Alternatively, you could cook fresh beetroot)
– ¼ cup pinenuts, lightly toasted (you can also use walnuts, almonds, even trail mix)
– ¼ cup dried cranberries
– 50g low sodium feta (or reduced fat ricotta)
– 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
– 1 tsp Dijon mustard
– 2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together ingredients for dressing until combined, and season with pepper (no salt needed). Combine cooled quinoa with spinach, beetroot, nuts, cranberries and feta. Give it a gentle mix and pour dressing over the salad just before serving.
You may be wondering about the nutrition of some of these ingredients – a small amount of salt from the feta is ok, as is the fat from the nuts. Moderation is the key when preparing and consuming meals, and this meal not only provides on taste, but will fill you up and fuel you throughout the day. It contributes key nutrients to the diet including protein, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and monounsaturated fats. This simple dish can be a meal in itself and makes for a healthy, on-the-go lunch.
2013 has been dubbed the “International Year of Quinoa” by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), in the hopes of promoting this underutilised ingredient as the nutrient-rich staple food that it is. With its production rapidly spreading worldwide its availability is continually growing. The challenges of food production in the world today due to both climate change and an ever increasing population have resulted in food insecurity (insufficient availability and access to wholesome, nutritious food). Taking advantage of quinoas ability to grow in even the harshest of conditions (unlike many other grains and seeds that can’t withstand these conditions) is extremely valuable and important in bringing us one step closer to increasing food security.
Quinoa has been around for thousands of years and I believe it will be for thousands more and become a household staple, so I hope you will be inspired to give quinoa a go and use it in many meals.