An introduction to quinoa:
Quinoa, pronounced ‘KEEN-wah’ or ‘KEE-nuh-wah’, is a great gluten-free alternative to energy giving grains. There are two types: red and creamy white. Both types are slightly bitter when cooked and open up to release little white curls (like a tail) as they soften.
Genesis of Quinoa:
Quinoa is a wonderful Superfood that originates from the Andean region. With its history in our food uses going back to over 5000 years, Quinoa has seen its earliest days across South American regions. Quinoa has been consumed by the indigenous populations of South America as a holy plant.
Grown in South America (Peru, Chile and Bolivia) for thousands of years, quinoa formed the staple diet of the Incas and their descendants.
A few years ago, it was shortlisted for its use in Space foods by a group of scientists working in USA. UN FAO gave Quinoa the Crop of Year status in 2013.
In recent years, foodies in the UK and the US have heralded it as a superior alternative to bulgur wheat, couscous and rice.
Though it often occupies a similar role to these grains in dishes, quinoa is actually in the same botanical family as beets, chard and spinach
What is quinoa?
While quinoa is usually considered to be a whole grain (similar to regular white rice, brown rice and other grains such as wheat and barley), it is actually a pseudo cereal, but can be prepared like whole grains such as rice or barley.
The UN named 2013 ‘International Quinoa Year’ in recognition of the crop’s high nutrient content. With more than twice the protein content of rice, quinoa is also a very good source of calcium, magnesium and manganese. It also possesses good levels of several B vitamins, vitamin E and dietary fibre.
Quinoa is among the least allergenic of all the grains, making it a fantastic wheat-free choice.
Quinoa is a gluten-free and cholesterol-free whole food, is kosher for snacking and is almost always organic.
Finally, of all the whole grains, quinoa has the highest protein content, so it’s perfect for vegetarians and vegans. Quinoa provides all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are two kinds of amino acids, essential amino acids have to come from our food and non-essential amino acids can be synthesised by our body. Most cereals have limited number of essential amino acids. However, Quinoa has all essential amino acids, thus making it a food that is rich in protein quality. Quinoa has an average of 14-17% protein content that is much higher than rice which has about 5-6% and Wheat which has about 10-12%.
Quinoa is rich in an amino acid called Tryptophan that plays a key role in the synthesis of the neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is integral for our wellness. Quinoa is also gluten free, thus making it easier to digest.
Most of the carbohydrate in Quinoa is made of starch. Quinoa is low in its Glycemic Load. Much unlike rice it does not spike the blood sugar levels after being consumed. Quinoa is thus a boon for those who are trying to manage their blood sugar levels. Quinoa can be used like rice and like other cereals into our regular meals.
The starch quality of Quinoa is very useful to also use it for smaller applications like thickener for gravies. We don’t quite realise it, but many gravy thickening starches are high in calories and very simple sugars that can increase blood sugar levels. Those who are genuinely concerned about their dietary intake can use Quinoa in-lieu of other thickeners for soups, gravies and sauces that are made at home.
Cooked Quinoa also has excellent stability in its structure when it is frozen and reheated, much unlike other foods that lose their outer structure when we cook and freeze to reheat and eat later.
Quinoa has a good ratio of healthy fats. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals needed for good health.
Importance of introducing the Superfood Quinoa in the Indian Diet:
India has the problem of non-communicable diseases due to imbalance in nutrient intake and poor lifestyle choices. Diabetes has gained its status as an epidemic disease in India. Predictions estimate a potential incidence of diabetes up to 79.4 million individuals in India by year 2030. Cardiovascular diseases are also on the raise in India, with younger population also succumbing to cardiac diseases and its associated complications. Consistent intake of wrong nutrients creates physiological setbacks causing onset of diabetes, cardiac disease, poor immunity, hypertension etc.
Grains are an important part of our diets meeting our energy and part protein intake. In India, we have main stays such as wheat and rice and a few millets that are occasionally eaten.
How to Cook Quinoa?
Quinoa is very easy to cook! You can prepare quinoa much like the way you would prepare rice.
Cover it with water or vegetable broth and simmer it over medium heat until soft, about 15 minutes, giving it a couple quick stirs.
Or, place 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water in your rice cooker.
When boiling quinoa, the compound that coats the seeds (saponins) creates a foam. These saponins give quinoa a slightly bitter taste. It is best to remove any leftover saponins on the quinoa coat; thoroughly washing the seeds before cooking by putting them into a sieve and running them under cold water. Once you have rinsed it well, it can be cooked like rice. It will expand to several times the original size during cooking.
Quinoa actually looks like a seed, but can be prepared like whole grains such as rice. Quinoa has a distinct advantage over other grains like rice, wheat etc.
First, it takes less time to cook than other whole grains and even cooks quicker than rice: Quinoa takes just 10 to 15 minutes to cook.
Second, quinoa tastes great on its own, unlike other whole grains such as millet. (Add a bit of olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice or a bit of garlic and – yum! Then, add a touch of nutritional yeast or Parmesan cheese and you’ve got yourself a meal; or at least a side dish.)
How is Quinoa used in recipes? Some Quinoa Recipes:
Quinoa is a pseudo cereal; it is a seed that is similar looking to millet but can extend itself beautifully into most cereal based recipes.
Cooked quinoa seeds become fluffy and creamy, yet maintains a slight crunch. It has a delicate and subtly nutty flavour, versatile for breakfast (as a cereal), lunch (as a salad) or dinner (as a side).
Use quinoa in just about any recipe calling for rice or another whole grain, such as rice salads, couscous recipes or pilaffs. You can keep some cooked quinoa on hand to toss into salads.
Add a handful of quinoa to your favourite soup recipe while it’s simmering to give it a bit of protein or try it plain with a saucy vegetable stir-fry.
Sprinkle it on salads
One of the most popular ways to prepare quinoa is to add some veggies and a dressing to make an easy quinoa salad.
- You can also swap white rice for quinoa alongside any kind of vegetable stir-fry.
- A new way to make quinoa is just like you would make a fried rice dish – quinoa fried “rice”!
- And, quinoa also makes a great hot breakfast cereal, similar to oatmeal. Swap out your usual oatmeal for some quinoa flakes which cook just as quickly.
Quinoa is an excellent food for all from children, adults to seniors. Its high nutritional value makes it useful for children who need nutrition for adequate growth, those training for sports, people who are managing diabetes and those who just want to fuel better for a healthier life.
Quinoa which was once an imported and expensive grain is now affordable to Indians at large due to the efforts of CFTRI. CFTRI developed agrotechnology for Quinoa to grow even in marginal soils of India, thus helping empower farmers. CFTRI has also rendered processing protocols for post-harvest management.
A daily portion of Quinoa would help you get healthier and have more energy for the day.
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