Quinoa, the ancient food from the Andes, is back. It had come a long way after having been absent from the table since the time of the Spanish colonization of South America. And way before that, it had been a staple food of the Incas for around 5,000 years.
The Incan people called Quinoa as the “mother grain” and revered it as sacred. It has been said that at every planting season, it was a tradition for the Incan emperor to lead in the planting of Quinoa using a golden shovel.
The Incans, even from way back then, had already known the tremendous nutritional value of Quinoa. In times of war, the Incan army who often marched for days going to war was ably sustained by eating a mixture of quinoa and fat known as “war balls”.
When the Spaniards came, the propagation and cultivation of quinoa was outlawed. It was grown clandestinely by peasants in remote mountains for their own consumption.
Most Nutritious Food
Rediscovered sometime in the 80s, Quinoa soon grabbed the attention of food scientists, nutritionists and farmers. It was soon discovered that the unassuming seed (it is not a true cereal) packs a wallop of rich nutrients – proteins, minerals and vitamins – in large percentages in so small a package. (It is around the size of a sesame seed.)
Quinoa has all the eight essential amino acids (considered a complete protein) and is high in lysine. It is also a good source of vitamin E and several of the B vitamins.
It has also most of the minerals needed by the human body – calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, magnesium and copper. It also contains a considerable amount of fiber.
Quinoa is great in hot casseroles, stews and soups and in stir-fried recipes. Quinoa sprouts are added in cold salads. In rice dishes, Quinoa is used as a substitute for rice.
Quinoa flour is also used in making pasta and other baked products. The seeds are sprouted and eaten raw in salads.
The Parent Plant
Technically a seed and not a true grain (cereal), Quinoa is often used as a grain or a substitute for grains. The plant is actually a relative of the spinach and beets, and grows from 4 to 6 feet tall.
The flower heads are branched and with large clusters of seeds at the end of the stalk. It can grow anywhere but thrives in cool dry climates in elevated areas.
Before cooking, the seeds must be rinsed to remove the saponin, the bitter seed coating. Usually Quinoa had been rinsed before it is packaged and sold. However, it is best to rinse it again.
Place the seeds in a strainer, run the water and rinsing it thoroughly washes the saponin. (In South America, the saponin rinsed from the seeds is used as detergent to wash clothes.)
There are over a hundred varieties of Quinoa, but only three main varieties are cultivated. They are the white or sweet variety, the dark red type and the black quinoa. The seeds are similar and almost of the same size.
One common denominator of all the three Quinoa varieties – they all are super nutritious, just like their ancient family.