Quinoa : A Versatile Superfood
Quinoa: versatile superfood
Quinoa is often used in the same way as grains such as rice and couscous but in fact, isn’t a grain at all. It’s the fruit of a broadleaf plant in the same family as spinach and beets.
Sisters Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming had an early start on healthy eating. “When our mom would make homemade yogurt my sister and I would stamp our feet going, ‘Why are we having homemade yogurt? Why can’t we have the yummy flavoured stuff that all the other kids eat?'” Hemming says. “We didn’t really think about that until later in life. We were like, wow, we ate homemade yogurt our whole childhood. How cool is that?”
Co-writing the cookbook Quinoa 365 (Whitecap, 2010) came about organically. “We started incorporating quinoa into everything we were eating and before you knew it we had a ton of recipes,” says Hemming. They were surprised that such a nutritious food had such a low profile. “When you mention the word so many people look at you and say, ‘What is that?’ It really trumps almost anything else you could put in your mouth and we haven’t really heard much about it.”
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is often used in the same way as grains such as rice and couscous but in fact, isn’t a grain at all. It’s the fruit of a broadleaf plant in the same family as spinach and beets. “It’s a complete protein, which is why so many vegetarians are aware of quinoa and have been eating quinoa for some time,” Hemming says, “also the fact that it’s gluten-free. Not having gluten really extends the versatility of it to those with food allergies and those who have digestive disorders and celiac disease.”
Quinoa originated in the Andean Mountain region of Peru and Bolivia and is still primarily grown there, as well as in Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Argentina. More recently, farmers have started growing quinoa in the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe. Quinoa seeds (white, red and black), flour and flakes are sold in most grocery stores, health food stores and bulk food stores. You can also order it online from health food supply sites.
Quinoa is often described as having a nutty and sometimes bitter flavour. Green and Hemming recommend rinsing the quinoa seeds under cold water in a fine strainer or soaking before cooking to reduce any bitterness. “The texture is a little bit like a couscous but then you’ve got a little bit of a nutty flavour on top of it so I tell people who are hardcore rice eaters or brown rice eaters, it’s quite similar in texture maybe but the flavour is just a little bit richer. A little bit earthier,” Hemming says.
Quinoa 365 includes more than 170 recipes covering breakfast, appetizers, snacks and sides, salads, soups and stews, entrées (for both meat eaters and vegetarians), baked goods and desserts, and baby food. Recipes are clearly labelled as being gluten-free, kid-approved and/or vegetarian.
Hemming recommends their Moist Chocolate Cake as a good ‘gateway’ recipe for quinoa skeptics. “It’s one of these trademark recipes that we really like to talk about because for so many reasons, it’s great. It’s just bizarre that you can cook these seeds up and make a cake batter that’s as moist and delicious as it turns out,” says Hemming. “It also is high protein so it’s a nutritious cake and it’s gluten-free. So if you’re vegetarian or if you have digestive disorders or food allergies it is a tremendous cake. We’ve seen that cake impact people so much that some of them are in tears because they haven’t been able to enjoy food quite like that in a long time.”
Nutritional highlights of quinoa:
– A complete protein
– Contains all eight essential amino acids
– Rich in vitamins E, B2 and B6, folic acid, biotin, calcium, potassium, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese and chloride
– Free of cholesterol and trans fat
– Contains high levels of natural antioxidants, mainly vitamin E