I discovered quinoa not too long ago when I was searching for gluten-free recipes. I found this Quinoa Apple Curry that I immediately had too try (I promise to post the recipe and photos one day). It was delicious...
Unfortunately I have not convinced J. yet with quinoa dishes. He is the kind of 'picky eater' that if he doesn't like how it looks he would even make an effort to try it. That happens with quinoa. I kind of understand him, quinoa doesn't look the most appealing thing when it's cooked. But it is surprisingly good and easy to work with.
Originally from South America, it was called by the Incas 'the mother grain' and it was considered sacred, a gift from their gods. Quinoa is not classified as a grain botanically speaking. It is a pseudocereal since the seeds are edible. In nutrition terms, quinoa is a whole grain since it has the intact grain seeds, in contrast with white rice and white flours, that have been processed. (I will make another post explaining the importance of preferring whole foods comparing to processed ones).
There are many different quinoa colors from white to black, passing through different tones of yellow, rose, red, purple, violet and grey. White, red, and black are the most commonly cultivated and easiest to find. There are slight differences in cooking times and textures. White quinoa is the mildest and least crunchy, and cooks up in 10 to 15 minutes. Black quinoa, on the other hand, is the crunchiest of the three and might need 5 minutes longer to cook.
These are white quinoa and red quinoa. I could not find black quinoa...
Quinoa is packed with an important amount of protein, fiber, good fatty acids and minerals. Here is what you can find in 1 cup of cooked quinoa (185 grams). You have what can be found in the same amount of white rice for comparison:
Protein: 8 g (all essential amonoacids) / (Rice: 4.4 g)
Fiber: 5 g / (Rice: 0.6 g)
Fat: 3.6 g / (Rice: 0.4 g)
Omega-3: 1.8 g - 17 % RDA* / (Rice: 0 g - 0 % RDA)
Manganese: 65 % RDA / (Rice: 39 % RDA)
Magnesium: 38 % RDA / (Rice: 8 % RDA)
Phosphorus: 40 % RDA / (Rice: 10 % RDA)
Folate: 19 % RDA / (Rice: 27 % RDA)
Copper: 39 % RDA / (Rice: 8 % RDA)
Iron: 15 % RDA / (Rice: 15 % RDA)
Zinc: 25 % RDA / (Rice: 10 % RDA)
Potassium: 7 % RDA / (Rice: 1 % RDA)
*RDA = Recommended Dietary Allowance
The ugly truth about quinoa...
There is always an ugly truth behind the curtain. As anything else, quinoa has also its issues. Several antinutritional substances have been found in quinoa, such as saponins, phytic acid, tannins and protease inhibitors. From these, saponins have launched more doughts about the real health benefits and potential toxic effects of this pseudograin.
Saponins are natural detergents made of glycosylated secondary metabolites, distributed throughout the plant kingdom. Common dietary sources of saponins are legumes like chickpeas, soy beans, mung beans, kidney beans, peanuts and lentils. A lesser amount can be found in oats, garlic, asparagus, leeks, spinach and of course, quinoa. Quinoa is surrounded by an epicarp that contains saponins, that might shouw up as a characteristic bitter or astringent taste. Most of the quinoa we buy is already rinsed and this taste is undetectable. You can always rinse your quinoa before cooking, just to be sure.
Saponins generally have functional rolls to plants. For instance, the sorghum plant contains cyanogenic glycosides in its roots that acts as a natural pesticide making it resistant to root worms. The stevia plant contains steviol glycosides that can be used as natural sweeteners. Many other plants contain flavonoid glycosides, that have a protective antioxidant effect on our cells.
Saponins found in quinoa have demonstrated anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory activities (you can read it here and here if you're really into science). Obviously, once extracted from the plant, these compounds can have toxic effects, especially if administered intravenously, This shows how men's laborious hand tend to create harmful things from safe nature's gifts. In the context of a whole grain or whole seeds, all the elements present work in harmony to provide us the highest concentration of nutrients without exerting negative effects.