Quinoa, the Seldom Heard Of Superfood

Quinoa, pronounced (Keen-wah) is a plant from the Andes, which originated near Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia. It was cultivated by the pre-Columbian civilizations and replaced by cereals upon the arrival of the Spanish, even though it has long been a staple food at that time. Early historical evidence points to its domestication by the peoples of America which occurred around 3000-5000 years BCE. Significant archaeological discoveries of quinoa have been made in the tombs of Tarapacá, Calama and Arica in Chile and in differing regions of Peru.

Before it was domesticated, wild quinoa was first used as a food source only through its leaves and seeds. Early evidence of how it has changed over time has been found among pottery from the Tiahuanaco culture that depcits quinoa plants with several panicles along the stems, suggesting that this was one of the earliest strains of the plant. During domestication, the Andean peoples selected types by how they’d be used and their ability to withstand the elements, and insects which has today brought about a hardy mix of variations for many different uses.

Varieties include:

  • Chullpi for soups
  • Pasankalla for toasting
  • Coytos for flour
  • Reales for grains
  • Utusaya to resist salinity
  • Witullas and Achachinos to resist cold
  • Kcancollas to resist drought
  • Quellus for high yield
  • Chewecas to resist excessive humidity
  • Ayaras for nutritionally high balance of essential amino acids and proteins
  • Ratuquis for early growth

The reason for Quinoas growth in popularity cannot be stated by one reason alone, because it has so many great factors. It has been called a superfood by scientists with substantial cause. Its protein content is extremely high for a cereal at 14% by mass, though not as high as most beans. Protein content is higher per 100 calories than brown rice, potatoes, barley and millet but less than wild rice. A good source for dietary fiber and phosphorus, it is also high in magnesium and iron. With a high fiber content of 17-27 grams per cup, the soluble fiber content sits at a high 2.5 grams per cup. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of soluble fiber that includes reduction in blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and help with weight loss. Nutritional evaluations have noted that quinoa is a source of complete protein. It’s also a source of calcium, which is useful to vegans and people who are lactose intolerant. It can also boast being gluten-free which helps with digestion, and for those with gluten intolerance. A full list of all the nutrients that can be found in quinoa are easily obtainable from the USDA page. Due to all of its super powers, NASA has given consideration for its inclusion as a crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System during their longer manned space flights.

Quinoa isn’t just packed full of good nutrients like protein and calcium, where other grains fail to give in high amounts, it’s also used for it’s phytonutrient benefits. Though most of the studies done with quinoa have largely been animal studies, there is reason to believe that the indications for humans are extremely promising. Research in rats has shown the ability for daily quinoa intake to lower levels of inflammation in adipose (fat) tissue, and in the lining of their intestines. It doesn’t stop there however, as research into this grain superfood continues to show even more benefits like the inhibition of viruses, cancer prevention and even anti-depressant effects all thanks to the unique flavonoids quinoa carries that include Quercetin and Kaempferol, two potent antioxidants that carry plenty of health benefits.

This is great news for those of us on a diet, or for whom metabolic disorders are a problem, because studies have shown the effects of quinoa on metabolic health versus gluten-free breads and pastas to significantly reduce blood sugar, insulin and triglyceride levels. The study has also shown that introducing quinoa to a diet high in fructose (fruit sugars) almost COMPLETELY inhibited the negative effects of fructose. This is a massive help, because fruit is another great source of vitamins and minerals, but the typically high fruit sugars keep us from being able to absorb most of the benefits without wearing the rest of it on our bodies as fat. Quinoa is a superhero for weight loss efforts in other ways as well. Its high protein levels increase your metabolism and also cause appetite reduction. The high fiber content keeps us feeling full for longer and causes us to eat fewer calories over the course of a day.

Though it should be noted that even though it’s easy to cook and incredibly tasty, it should usually be rinsed with water to get rid of the saponins that are found on the outer layer and result in a very bitter flavor. Some brands sell it pre-rinsed, so be sure to check your packaging. Cooking quinoa is simple, just add one part grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan or pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. It is much like rice, and takes around 15 minutes to prepare. Once it is cooked, you’ll see that the grains have become translucent and the white germ has partially removed itself. Quinoa has a naturally nutty flavor that can be brought out further by roasting it prior to boiling. A fantastic tool for ease in making recipes that are both healthy and delicious is this recipe assistant tool and quinoa recipes continue to grow massively as our culture embraces the qualities of this superfood.  Cooking Light Magazine offers 27 healthy recipes that can be made with our favorite grain, but here’s a few selections from Bon Appetit that are sure to tantalize:

Coconut Quinoa

Ingredients

SERVINGS: 6

  • 1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
  • 1½ cups quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1 13.5-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

ACTIVE: 15 MIN TOTAL: 50 MIN

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add quinoa and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add coconut milk, salt, and 1½ cups water and stir to combine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer until quinoa is tender and liquid is evaporated, 20-25 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Red Quinoa With Pistachios

Ingredients

SERVINGS: 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup quinoa, preferably red, rinsed well in a fine-mesh sieve
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
  • 1/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Preparation

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add quinoa and cook, stirring frequently, until quinoa starts to toast and smell nutty, about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Stir in quinoa, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently until quinoa is tender, 25-30 minutes (15 if using white quinoa). Remove pan from heat, fluff quinoa with a fork. Cover; let stand for 5 minutes. Fold pistachios, parsley, and mint into quinoa. Season with salt and pepper.

Quinoa Fritters With Ají Amarillo Aioli

Ingredients

SERVINGS: 6

Aioli

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) ají amarillo chile paste or other chile paste
  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Fritters

  • 2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed, drained
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup finely crumbled Cotija cheese or feta
  • 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 scallions, white and pale-green parts only, minced (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Vegetable or grapeseed oil (for frying)

Preparation

Aioli
Whisk mayonnaise, lime juice, 2 Tbsp. chile paste, parsley, and salt in a medium bowl. Season to taste with more chile paste, if desired. Cover and chill. DO AHEAD: Aioli can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

Fritters
Heat a dry medium saucepan over high heat. Add quinoa; cook, stirring constantly, until toasted and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add 1 1/3 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until quinoa is tender and water is absorbed, 11-12 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and let cool. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add flour, cheese, and salt to quinoa; toss to coat. Season with pepper. Add scallions, parsley, egg, and egg yolk. Stir until a dough forms (mix gently to prevent quinoa from breaking apart).

Scoop up some dough with a soup spoon; use a second spoon to scoop dough out of first spoon, smoothing and forming dough into an oval shape. Repeat until a football-like shape forms (in kitchen speak, what you’ve just made is called a quenelle). Alternatively, scoop out dough with a small ice cream scoop. Place quenelles on a large plate or baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough.

Pour oil into a large heavy skillet to a depth of 1/2-inch. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, place quenelles in oil and fry, turning occasionally, until cooked through and all sides are golden, 4-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer fritters to paper towels to drain.

Serve fritters warm with ají amarillo aioli alongside for dipping.

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