1. Where does Quinoa come from?
Quinoa originated in the harsh growing conditions of the Andes mountains in Peru and Bolivia, cultivated by the Incans over 5,000 years ago. Sometimes referred to as the “Mother Grain” Incan warriors would fuel themselves on quinoa before battles.
2. Why is Quinoa so expensive?
Today, the world’s supply of quinoa is still grown in Peru. It is protected by the communities there, so that it cannot be grown anywhere else is in the world. A quickly-growing world demand for this new “Super Food” has challenged the local farmers to keep up, which has meant the price has risen. Yes, basic supply and demand rules. News stories have hinted that the cost of quinoa has gotten so expensive that the Peruvian farmers can’t even afford to eat their own crops. However, some holes have been found in that data and quinoa is still on the plates of the locals who grow it.
Even though it may be a bit pricier than some other grains, a little goes a long way. A 12-oz. box runs about $6.50 and can feed you for a week.
3. Is Quinoa a Complete Protein?
The myth of complementary proteins dates back to 1971 when Frances Moore Lappe published her book Diet for a Small Planet. The sociologist, in her efforts to combat world hunger, proposed that some plants where deficient in certain amino acids and that vegetarians had to be diligent about eating “complementary” proteins to stay adequately nourished. Lappe is not a nutritionist or doctor. In 1981, 10 years after the original publication, Lappe retracted this view and basically asserted that a plant-based diet provides ample protein as long as one is eating enough calories.
4. So is Quinoa a Good Source of Protein?
The “incomplete protein” myth persists, though, even on the websites of Quinoa companies, which try to promote quinoa as a superfood, superior to whole grain wheat or rice. I’ll let others battle out in the grain world. The simple nutrition points out that quinoa is a healthy, plant-based vegetarian source of protein, fiber, and Iron. One cup of cooked quinoa has about 222 calories, over 20% of your daily fiber, and 8g of protein (about 15% daily recommendation for men and 20% for women).
5. Is Quinoa Gluten-Free?
Yes, quinoa is technically gluten-free. However, like many gluten-free foods, the issue of cross-contamination means that someone with Celiac disease still needs to be concerned about how the grain is harvested and processed. If you are following a strict gluten-free diet, you should choose quinoa that is specifically labeled “Gluten-Free”. This means that it has passed certification standards, processed in a sterile facility, and is safe to eat.
Even eating gluten-free quinoa can still have negative effects on sensitive stomachs. New research is still trying to unfold some of the commonalities between the proteins in quinoa and gluten. However, for most people simply trying to cut back on the amount of wheat in their diets, gluten is a safe alternative to pasta and bread.
6. Is Quinoa Organic? Is it GMO-Free?
Companies that grow quinoa must go through the strict certification process to be labeled organic in the US, and they will tout their organic status on their label. All organic foods must also be GMO-free. You can check the packaging of your quinoa to ensure that what you’re buying is organic. Over 3,000 varieties of quinoa naturally exist, and it has stayed clear of the genetically modified test labs. Yet, scientists have been eyeing it as a possible to solution to world hunger.
7. Why is it a “Super Food”?
Quinoa’s nutrition power plus its ability to grow in extremely harsh conditions mean that it has recently been sought as a possible solution to world hunger. In our own American hunger, it’s considered a Superfood simply because it is a source of fiber, protein, and healthy unsaturated fats. It’s often listed with other “Super” foods like kale, blueberries, and sweet potatoes. However, most foods in the plant world can be called “Super” as plants naturally are healthy sources of vegetarian fiber and protein, without any cholesterol and little saturated fats. Still waiting for the day for lentils to get their “Super” status…
8. What is the difference between the different colors of quinoa?
Quinoa can commonly be found in three colors: red, black, and white. A tri-color quinoa is just a mix of these three. In Peru, where quinoa is locally grown, you’ll find even more variations of the seeds, including quinoa flakes (which resemble rolled oats), quinoa flour, and quinoa “pop” (which resembles puffed rice cereal). Even the leaves of the quinoa plant are edible, though they’re rarely consumed nowadays. Black and red quinoa retain their texture a bit more, making them great for salads or adding a chewy “pop” to a dish. White quinoa softens for a fluffier texture, making it ideal as a substitute for rice or as the base for a quinoa bowl. White quinoa also tends to be the cheapest and most readily available, making it a good “beginner quinoa” for someone just trying out the grain.
9. How do I Cook Quinoa? Do I need to Rinse It?
Quinoa Ratio: “2 and some….to 1”
Cooking quinoa is pretty easy, even easier than rice, in my chef’s opinion. Think of “2 and some…to 1”.
Strict quinoa cookers will tell you to follow a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa. As in, 2 cups water or vegetable stock to 1 cup quinoa. As a chef, though, I know how sometimes things simmer longer than you intend, pots get shoved to the back of the stove and forgotten, and sometimes your mom calls right when you’re supposed to be fluffing grains. As a safety net, I add a little extra liquid to my quinoa cooking. After about 10-12 minutes of simmering, the quinoa will “pop” open, telling you that it’s done. Fluff with a fork. If you notice excess water in the bottom of your pot, leave the lid off and let the excess steam off. If the bottom of your pot is dry, leave the lid on. It’s as simple as that.
Most of the quinoa on the shelf today comes pre-rinsed. It'll say so right on the package. So, no, you don't need to rinse your quinoa.
10. What about toasting quinoa?
Toasting quinoa before simmering adds incredible nutty flavor, and it’s one of my healthy tricks for also intensifying the natural flavors of any spices you use. Check out this video that shows you how to toast quinoa fat-free, in a dry pan, without any oil. Toasting with Mexican spices like paprika and cumin brings out the flavors of these spices for more delicious cooking:
Delicious Healthy Quinoa Recipes
Gluten-Free, OIl-Free, Plant-Based
References and Further Quinoa Reading:
Quinoa – March Grain of the Month from the Whole Grain Council: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/quinoa-march-grain-of-the-month
FAO.org: Quinoa Origin and History: http://www.fao.org/quinoa-2013/what-is-quinoa/origin-and-history/en/
NPR: Your Quinoa Habit Really Did Help Peru's Poor. But There's Trouble Ahead, March 31, by Jeremy Cherfas: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/03/31/472453674/your-quinoa-habit-really-did-help-perus-poor-but-theres-trouble-ahead
Forks Over Knives: The Myth of Complementary Protein, by Jeff Novick (MS, RD), June 3, 2013: http://www.forksoverknives.com/the-myth-of-complementary-protein/
Ancient Harvest: Organic Quinoa, Plant Based Protein: http://ancientharvest.com/ancient-grains/organic-quinoa/
The Gluten-Free Society: Is Quinoa a Safe Gluten Free Food Alternative? https://www.glutenfreesociety.org/is-quinoa-a-safe-gluten-free-food-alternative/
Salt Lake Tribune: Quinoa could feed the world, BYU researchers say — but will its spread hurt Andean countries? By David Self Newlin, Dec 07 2014: http://www.sltrib.com/news/1872501-155/quinoa-could-feed-the-world-byu
The Kitchen: What's the Difference Between Red and White Quinoa? http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-red-and-golden-quinoa-200167
About the Author:
Chef Katie Simmons
Katie is a Personal Chef based in Chicago. She specializes in creating delicious, healthy recipes for those with special dietary concerns like gluten-free, oil-free, plant-based, and low-residue. Outside of the kitchen, she is a Fitness Instructor for Equinox, with over 13 years experience in the fitness industry, and a blogger for Kuli Kuli Foods. For fun, she loves to travel, with her most recent travel involving 10 days of hiking in the Patagonia of Argentina and Chile.