Monday, January 14, 2013

Meatless Monday: Quinoa [KEEN-wah] Gets Its Due

For 5000 years, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) has been a staple food of the Andean indigenous peoples. In recent decades the rest of the world has begun to sing its praises. In fact, the United Nations has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations issued the report Quinoa: An Ancient Crop to Contribute to World Food Security. In brief, the report is a compilation of the many nutritional benefits and agricultural versatility of quinoa. The authors also propose that quinoa is a crop “with high potential to contribute to food security in various regions worldwide, especially in those countries where the population does not have access to protein sources or where production conditions are limited by low humidity, reduced availability of inputs, and aridity.” You can download the entire publication here. 

Quinoa is an annual species in the goosefoot family (the same botanical family as sugarbeet, table beet, and spinach) and is related to common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.), considered by many a weed. Quinoa is sometimes referred to as a "pseudocereal" like buckwheat and amaranth, because it is a broadleaf non-legume that is grown for grain unlike most cereal grains which are grassy plants. 

According to the FAO, “Quinoa is the only plant food that contains all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins and contains no gluten.” Its nutritional quality has been compared to that of dried, whole milk. Quinoa is very low in cholesterol and sodium, is high in dietary fiber, and is also a good source of magnesium and phosphorus and a very good source of manganese. 

Quinoa can be used in many of the same ways as rice and takes about the same time to prepare. It can easily be cooked in a larger quantity to be reheated or used in salads. Be warned about one quinoa trait, however. The quinoa “berry” has a coating of bitter saponins, which can be removed by rinsing in water; the water will acquire a sudsy appearance as it does its work. Some packaged quinoa is sold pre-rinsed, but read the label carefully. [It is interesting to note that according to one source I discovered, “In South America the saponin which is removed from the quinoa is used as detergent for washing clothes and as an antiseptic to promote healing of skin injuries.]

Cooking Light offers a collection of 15 easy quinoa recipes to get you started. They may not be traditional Andean fare, but they are an easy way to introduce this “ancient grain” to your cooking repertoire.

Happy Monday. Have a great week.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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