The Benefits and Nutritional Value of Qunioa

The Benefits and Nutritional Value of Qunioa
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The History of Quinoa

What is quinoa? This crop, pronounced keen-wah, is a highly nutritious whole grain, indigenous to the Andes. Like amaranth, the super grain of Mesoamerica, quinoa played a central role in South American Indian life and culture. It has been cultivated for at least 5,000 years, and quickly became a major food source because of the health benefits of quinoa.

The Incas revered quinoa. They believed it was a divine crop, enhancing both spiritual energy as well as physical. Their ‘mother grain’ was given to warriors and runners for endurance and strength. It was used to speed healing, to treat broken bones, tuberculosis, and liver problems. The ancient grain also made its way into Inca rituals; the first quinoa seeds were sown into the earth each year by the emperor-god with his golden planting stick, the taquiza.

Because quinoa was an integral part of the Indian life and religion, it was feared and scorned by the invading Spanish conquistadors. When Francisco Pizzaro arrived in 1532, he and his small army destroyed all the quinoa fields, forcing the Indians to instead grow wheat and barley. Fortunately, the super grain was still cultivated in secret, high in the Andes mountains for hundreds of years. It was brought to North America in the 1970’s by two students of the Bolivian spiritual leader, Oscar Ichazo. As people become more aware of the potential and value of the ancient super grains, quinoa has slowly made its way into health food stores across America.

As a crop, quinoa is easily cultivated; comfortable in both hot, arid climates, as well as freezing temperatures. The Indians of the Andes usually grew it, along with corn and potatoes, on terrace plots at extremely high altitudes. The quinoa plant reaches heights up to nine feet tall. Half of the plant is the seed head, which is covered with tens of thousands of life-sustaining seeds.

Quinoa is a member of the Goosefoot family of plants, which also includes spinach, swiss chard, and beets. While raw, the seeds are a pale brown. When cooked, they become fluffy golden grains, with tiny white spirals. The nutritional value of quinoa is reason enough to enjoy this food, but the taste is dynamic as well. It has a very distinct flavor; a strong earthy and nutty taste, more intense than common grains such as rice or wheat.

Cooking Quinoa

Quinoa is easy to prepare. First rinse the quinoa seeds in cool water to remove any leftover saponins. The natural saponin coating protects the

Quinoa for Breakfast

plant from birds and the sun, but it lends a bitter flavor to the cooked grain. Next, boil two cups of water for every one cup of quinoa. Cover, and simmer for twenty minutes. The seeds can be toasted in a little olive oil before cooking for a nuttier flavor.

Quinoa can be substituted for any rice dish for extra flavor and nutrition. It is wonderful in soups, casseroles, or simply mixed with sauteed vegetables and meat. It can also be served cold, folded into a green salad, or mixed with nuts, dried fruit and honey.

As quinoa seeds have a higher fat and oil content than other grains, they can go rancid. Store quinoa in a cool, dry cupboard or the refrigerator.

Health Benefits

Unlike common grains, which have been cultivated in mass for centuries, quinoa is completely unadulterated. It is the same healthy, natural food that the Incas ate centuries ago. The nutritional value of quinoa is incredible, with amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates. As a complete protein, one cup of quinoa on its own provides all the necessary nutrition you would need in one meal. Quinoa is a gluten-free food.

Quinoa is 12 to 18 percent protein by weight. It has all nine essential amino acids, including lysine which is necessary for tissue growth and repair and rarely found in whole grains. It is an excellent source of calcium, manganese, magnesium, the B-complex vitamins, and vitamin E. It is a good source of vitamin A, iron, copper, potassium, and phosphorus as well as other trace minerals. What do all these nutrients add up to? A food full of age-defying, heart-healthy, disease-preventing compounds.

This ancient grain is returning to the forefront as a more health conscious public searches for nutritional alternatives. Super grains are not only healthy, but an extremely inexpensive and energy-efficient way to provide people with complete nutrition, something everyone can embrace.

Resources

The Worlds Healthiest Foods, https://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=142

Vegetarians in Paradise, https://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch36.html

The Quinoa Corporation, https://www.quinoa.net/

Photo by SweetonVeg