By Jane Dummer, RD
Is it a Grain or a Seed?
Although it looks like a cereal grain, quinoa is actually more closely related to beet or spinach and is technically a seed. Quinoa is one of seven seeds featured in my book, The Need for Seeds: How to Make Seeds an Everyday Food in Your Healthy Diet. A decade ago, this little-known, gluten-free seed was grown almost exclusively in the Andes. Fast-forward to today and quinoa is a must-have in Canada, the United States and Europe, with the supply barely keeping up with consumer demand.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadian acres devoted to quinoa rose from 312 to 11,868 between 2011 and 2016, with the majority (9,525 acres) grown in Saskatchewan.
Quinoa’s nutritional profile has a balance of high-quality carbohydrates, fat and protein. The International Year of Quinoa was declared by the United Nations Headquarters in 2013 due to its potential role in ending hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
- Carbohydrate: Quinoa is about 65% to 70% high-quality carbohydrates and fibre (soluble and insoluble), that provide energy for the mind and body, assisting in brain, heart, fitness and digestive health.
- Protein: Containing 14% to 18% protein and all the essential amino acids, quinoa is important for bone, fitness and immune health.
- Fat: Although higher in fat compared to rice, 25% of that fat is oleic acid – the healthy monounsaturated fat (MUFA) found in the Mediterranean diet. It has no saturated or trans fats, no cholesterol and very little sodium.
- Micronutrients: Quinoa is a good source of the B vitamins – riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and folic acid – which are important for brain, heart and immune health. Its high vitamin E content also supports immune health. Quinoa is a good source of many minerals, including magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium.
There are roughly 120 known varieties of quinoa, according to the Whole Grains Council. The most commercialized types are white, red and black quinoa. White quinoa is widely available in Canada. Red quinoa is often used in cold dishes like salads since it tends to hold its shape better than the white variety after cooking. Black quinoa is the most difficult to source.
Cooking with Quinoa
Here’s how I pull off perfectly cooked quinoa with ease:
- First, I buy a quality quinoa that is consistent in size. When seed size varies, cooking can become more complicated and mushy quinoa is a real drag!
- Second, I soak and rinse the quinoa before cooking.
Remember, if you’re making quinoa for the first time and it doesn’t quite turn out, don’t give up! Experiment with the recipe and tweak it to your taste. The following fool-proof recipe from my book can be made ahead of time and used for both cold and hot dishes:
Simple, No-Fail Quinoa Cooking Instructions
Makes 4 cups (1 L)
1 cup (250 mL) white quinoa
1¾ cups (425 mL) low-sodium vegetable stock
In a bowl, cover quinoa in water and soak for 15 minutes. In a fine strainer, drain quinoa and rinse twice with cold running water. In a medium saucepan, combine low-sodium vegetable stock with quinoa. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 12 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and let stand, covered, for five minutes. Remove lid and fluff with a fork. If you’re using quinoa for a cold dish, spread it on two cookie sheets, fluff with fork again and let cool.