Considered a “sacred grain” by the ancient Incas, Quinoa was also called “chisaya mama” (mother of all grains). The ancients must probably know how such a lowly seed was actually a nutritional heavyweight.
As records would have it, Quinoa was even available as staple food to pre-Columbian people some 6,000 years before the Incas discovered them. The modern re-discovery of Quinoa (the 80s) took another 500 years or so (since the time of the Spanish colonization of the Americas). Today, it is now regarded super food.
Also nicknamed “super grain”, Quinoa is not really a grain (cereal) but the seed of a leafy plant related to the common spinach or the beets. What makes it super and on top of the other foods are the many nutrients it carries.
It has all the 8 essential amino acids needed by the body, an impressive collection of some of the most important vitamins (more of the Bs) and minerals, plus it sports a considerable pack of necessary fiber. It even has the added bonus of being gluten-free.
Aside from the complete pack of amino acids, it also has lysine. Quinoa has the calcium content that rivals that of cow’s milk, but is better because its calcium is “first hand” and digests better than the “second hand” calcium in milk.
Moreover, it has more iron than ordinary grains, and a good source of such other minerals as magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc and copper. The vitamins are as varied: vitamin E, vitamin B6, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid and others in traces.
Quinoa seeds are about the same size as a millet or sesame seeds. They are flat, with a pointed oval shape. There are many colors of the seeds, depending on the variety but the most common are the white and red varieties available in supermarkets.
Cooked, the seeds turn translucent and are light and have a fluffy texture when chewed. During cooking, the external germ spirals out and forms into a tiny crescent-shaped tendril like that of a bean sprout.
The grain is soft and creamy but the “tail” is crunchy making up for some unique eating experience.
One of the reasons why Quinoa survived this long is because it has its natural deterrent from animal predators (birds) and the environment (cold). This comes in the form of a bitter coating called saponin.
In cooking the seeds, this coating has to be washed and rinsed away. Place the seeds in a fine strainer and run cold water for some 2 to 3 minutes or until the drain turns clear.
Most Quinoa manufacturers washed and cleaned their seeds before selling them. However, it does not hurt to wash them just before cooking.
For that nutty, roasted flavor, toast the seeds over medium heat in a dry skillet for five minutes. To cook, use one part of Quinoa to two parts water.
Cooking is simple. Simply combine the liquid and the seeds, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the grains becomes translucent, and that little tail comes out of each granule.
This takes about 15 minutes. You are then ready to eat Quinoa, the super food.