Latin name: Chenopodium quinoa
What is Quinoa?
Light, fluffy and slightly nutty in taste when cooked, quinoa can be thought of as an alternative to rice or couscous. Quinoa is called a pseudograin: it is similar in taste and cooking to grains, but is not technically a grain, which comes from grass seeds. Quinoa is actually a member of the Chenopodiaceae family, making it a relative of beets, chard, and amaranth. Because of this, some of its nutritional aspects have more in common with dark green leafy vegetables than the “true grains.” In its natural state, quinoa has a coating of saponins that are extremely bitter in taste; therefore most commercially sold quinoa has been processed to remove this coating.
Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been a highly valued food for 6,000 years. The Incas held the crop to be sacred, referring to it as the “mother of all grains,” and used quinoa to increase the stamina of their warriors. It was rediscovered in the United States in the 1980s where it has been gaining popularity for its nutritious profile.
What are the health benefits of Quinoa?
Quinoa, like buckwheat and amaranth, contain protein that is unusually complete for plant sources, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. Not only is the amino acid profile of quinoa well balanced, but also quinoa is packed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. Because it is a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus, quinoa could prove to be especially valuable for treating diabetes, atherosclerosis, and migraine headaches. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, which helps lower risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer. Quinoa is gluten-free and generally considered easy to digest.
Are there any precautions for Quinoa?
The saponins and the oxalic acid in the leaves of quinoa can be mildly toxic. Numbness of the lips and tongue has been reported after eating unwashed but cooked quinoa. However, the risks connected with quinoa are minimal when it is properly prepared.
Where can I find Quinoa?
Quinoa can be found in many grocery stores and local health food stores.
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