Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a grain-like crop, surprisingly related to a common weed that I find growing in my garden. It is abundant in South America, particularly the Andean region, was held as sacred by the Incas, and has been regarded as the “mother grain.”
Quinoa has a relatively high protein content and contains a great balance of essential amino acids, classifying it as a “complete protein.” The amino acid profile contains significant amounts of both lysine AND methionine--which are rarely both found in decent amounts within the same source of plant-based protein (this is the reason we typically must “complement” one type of plant-based protein with another, throughout the course of a day, to achieve a good balance--such as rice and beans).
This pseudo-grain cooks like rice, is versatile, gluten-free, easily digestible, and a good way to naturally increase dietary consumption of protein, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, and folate. Quinoa is also naturally pest-resistant, due to a saponin coating on the seed. This saponin coating deters birds and other pests from tampering with the seed during growth and harvest, and is typically washed off during the post-harvest processing to make it edible.
Much attention has been brought to quinoa lately, and you may have seen it crop up in recipes or supermarket finds here & there. The United Nations recently dubbed 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa,” due to its potential to contribute to the eradication of hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.
I’ve typically purchased quinoa in bulk or in a large bag at Costco--both ways help reduce the cost and allow my family to include it as more of a staple in our diet. However, it is also available in the grain section (near the rice) at most supermarkets, you may just end up paying more of a premium purchasing it this way.
On this site, you will find several quinoa recipes to experiment with (and the next three recipes will all feature this wonderful super-food!).