Do you know what food is considered to be a perfect snack for astronauts during their long missions?
Believe it or not, it's quinoa!
Why? Because it's loaded with nutrients, is gluten-free, and contains all the essential amino acids! These are just some of the reasons why it's our December Superfood of the Month!
What is quinoa?
You may think quinoa is a whole grain, similar to bulgur, barley or farro. Technically, quinoa isn't a grain, even though it is prepared and consumed like one. Quinoa is actually a seed (which is why it is gluten-free) and is from the same family of plants as beets and spinach.
It can grow in diverse climates, and much of the world’s production originates from South America, primarily Peru and Bolivia. There are many different varieties of quinoa (over 100), with the most popular in the U.S. being white, red and black. You might also find tri-colored quinoa at the store, which is a combination of these varieties.
Why has quinoa exploded in popularity?
Humans have been eating quinoa for over 4,000 years, but not until about 10 years ago did it become more popular in the U.S. Maybe it's because of the increasing prevalence of gluten sensitivities or the ever-growing population of people eating a vegetarian or vegetable-forward lifestyle. Since 1999, quinoa production in Bolivia has grown by 50%! Even though it has become more prevalent the past few years in the U.S., we still run into a lot of people who say, “I have never tried it…and how in the world do you say it?!" (It's pronounced "keen-wah".)
Quinoa is gluten-free, which makes it ideal for those that need to avoid gluten, and it's loaded with nutrients:
- One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
- Great source of magnesium, which reduces the risk of hypertension and strokes.
- Contains minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, iron and B vitamins, which help bone health, heart health, cell function and tissue growth.
- With its low glycemic index, quinoa helps lower blood sugar levels…unlike refined carbs.
- Quinoa contains all 9 essential amino acids. Some amino acids are referred to as "essential" because our bodies can't produce them...making it essential to acquire them through our food. And, because quinoa contains all these essential amino acids, it's considered a "complete protein" (which most plant-based proteins aren't), and which is one of the reasons NASA is a fan!
How do you cook quinoa?
One of the best things about quinoa is it's super-easy to prepare and versatile for a wide variety of meals. It cooks in under 15 minutes, using 2 parts liquid and 1 part quinoa. For example, you can use 2 cups of water or broth to prepare 1 cup of dry uncooked quinoa. 1 cup of dry quinoa will transform into about 3 cups of cooked quinoa.
You can also make a larger batch of quinoa (e.g., 2 cups dry, which will make 6 cups cooked) to enjoy in several meals throughout the week.
Quinoa can also be added to homemade granola, ground into flours (a great gluten-free option) and rolled into flakes (which you can enjoy similar to quick-cooking oatmeal).
Do you need to rinse quinoa?
Quinoa contains a natural coating called saponin, which makes the quinoa seeds insect resistant. This coating can occasionally make quinoa taste bitter, and can easily be washed away. You can find varieties of quinoa that have been "pre-washed," but it's also very simple to rinse it yourself.
Simply place the dry uncooked quinoa in a fine mesh strainer (fine mesh is required so the quinoa doesn't fall through the holes) and rinse under cool water. If you don't have a fine mesh strainer (which we highly recommend), you can line a colander with a coffee filter or paper towel and then rinse -- it gets a little messy, but gets the job done!
Ideas to enjoy quinoa?
You knew this was coming -- we have LOTS and LOTS of ideas on Eat REAL America to enjoy quinoa in a variety of ways! And, our Eat REAL Cookbook will help you become a quinoa master in no time! Plus, the holidays are an ideal time to enjoy quinoa in a variety of ways!
- Banana Dark Chocolate Granola
- Southwest Quinoa with Simple Guacamole
- Roasted Autumn Salad
- Shrimp and Cilantro Lime Quinoa Bowl
- Cheeseburger Quinoa Bites
- Crazy Cajun Quinoa
- Quinoa Corn Chowder
- Christmas Quinoa Salad and Roasted Acorn Squash and Brussels Sprouts Salad (which are both ideal for your holiday gatherings!)
During December, take our Superfood Challenge and try quinoa in a variety of ways and let the Eat REAL America community know what you think!