In 2013, the United Nations declared the "International Year of Quinoa," celebrating its nutritional value and the role it can play in global food security. Obviously, you should eat more of this superfood, but what's the best way to cook quinoa?
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Cooking quinoa is simple: Just simmer and steam until fluffy.
What Is Quinoa?
First things first — just in case you're confused, it's pronounced keen-wah. Aside from that important piece of information, there are a few more things you should know about quinoa:
- It's not a grain. Quinoa is considered a "pseudo-cereal." It's cooked and eaten like a grain and it has a similar nutritional profile, but botanically, it's in the same family as beets, chard and spinach. Like those plants, the leaves of quinoa can also be eaten.
- It's very old. In the Andes where it originated, quinoa has been a staple food for thousands of years. Known as the "golden grain of the Incas," it was considered a sacred food.
- There are many types of quinoa. You can probably find only one or two on your supermarket shelves, but according to the Whole Grains Council, there are over 120 varieties. The most common types of quinoa are white, black and red. White quinoa, which is often tan in color, is more tender and has a milder flavor than red or black quinoa. The consistency of cooked red and black quinoa is firmer than white quinoa.
Read more: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds
Cooking Perfect Quinoa
Cooking quinoa is as easy as falling off a log. It's easier and quicker to prepare than rice, which means you can cook it up in a hurry when you're crunched for time.
Washing quinoa well is an important step you shouldn't skip. Quinoa grains are naturally covered with a bitter-tasting substance called saponin, which provides protection from pests. According to the Whole Grains Council, much of the quinoa sold commercially now has the saponins removed during processing; however, it's a good idea to give it a thorough rinse.
Since quinoa grains are very small, a normal colander you would use to drain pasta may not be suitable; a fine mesh sieve is a better option.
The proportions of water to quinoa are simple: 1-to-2, quinoa to water. To make 2 cups of quinoa — about four servings — you need one-half cup of quinoa and 1 cup of water.
Place the water in a medium pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Add the quinoa to the pot and allow the water to return to a boil. Then cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer.
While the quinoa cooks, it absorbs the water and becomes plumper. When most of the water is absorbed, the quinoa is ready. Generally, this takes between 10 and 20 minutes. Follow the directions on the package of red quinoa you purchased.
Remove the pot from the stove, but keep it covered. Allow it to sit for five minutes while the quinoa steams, and the rest of the water is absorbed. Remove the cover, fluff with a fork and serve.
Red Quinoa Nutrition Facts
Quinoa's claim to fame is its protein content. Compared to other grains such as oats, quinoa has twice as much protein, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Also, quinoa is one of the few plant foods to provide a source of "complete" protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids your body needs to make protein. Most other plant foods are low in or missing one of the amino acids, so you must get these missing aminos from other foods in your diet.
With 6 grams in a one-half cup cooked serving, red quinoa provides 13 percent of the protein women need each day and 10 percent of the protein men need daily, according to the recommended daily intakes established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Medicine.
Red quinoa is also a good source of fiber, which you need for healthy digestion. Fiber comes from the cell walls of plants that humans mostly can't digest. Fiber adds bulk to stool making it easier to pass and preventing constipation; it helps fill your stomach and provides more satiety to help you eat less and maintain your weight; it also helps lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels.
One serving of cooked quinoa provides 3 grams of fiber, which is 12 percent of a woman's daily needs and 8 percent of the amount a man needs daily.
Quinoa is also a good source of plant-based iron, a mineral that is necessary for making healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body. One serving provides almost 2 milligrams, according to the USDA, which is 25 percent of the recommended daily intake for a man, and 11 percent of a woman's daily needs.
Read more: 23 Healthy Salads Nutrition Experts Eat
Red Quinoa Preparation Ideas
You can use vegetable or chicken stock instead of water to cook quinoa, which will add more flavor. You can also use a combination of stock and water. When your quinoa is done cooking, mix in some herbs and spices — almost anything goes. Try Italian herbs such as oregano, basil and sage, or Middle Eastern spices such as cumin and cardamom.
Red quinoa consistency is still delicate as far as grains go, so it doesn't really stand up to heavy sauces or gravies like rice can. But you can still use it as a base for curries made with light coconut milk and lots of veggies.
Cold quinoa adds heartiness and flavor to any salad you can think of. Try mixing chilled red quinoa with spinach leaves, chopped tomatoes, pine nuts and feta cheese. Toss it with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Add some fresh, chopped mint if you desire.
You can get even more creative with red quinoa, using it as a coating for chicken or fish with an egg batter. When baked, the coating will become slightly crispy. Use it in baked goods, such as gluten-free quinoa bread or quinoa cookies. You can also eat it for breakfast in the same way you would oats.
For a quick breakfast you can make ahead and grab on the go, combine cooked quinoa with almond milk, chia seeds, almond and vanilla extract and a touch of maple syrup. Chill it in a mason jar overnight, and it's ready to eat in the morning.
- Oldways Whole Grains Council: "2013, the International Year of Quinoa"
- Oldways Whole Grains Council: "Quinoa – March Grain of the Month"
- MedlinePlus: "Healthy Food Trends -- Quinoa"
- FDA: "Protein"
- National Academies of Medicine: Summary Tables, Dietary Reference Intakes
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet"
- USDA: " Full Report (All Nutrients): 45344310, Red Quinoa, UPC: 085239349175"
- NIH: "Iron"
- Simply Quinoa: "Vanilla Almond Overnight Quinoa"