An annual herb belonging to the Chenopodiaceae family, quinoa is – just like buckwheat – a ‘ pseudo-cereal ‘ close to amaranth, spinach and beet. Originally from South America, quinoa is famous for its many varieties, the nutrients it contains but also for its ability to withstand extreme climatic conditions. During periods of freezing or drought, exposed to winds, at altitude, on poor soils or in arid environment, quinoa thrives without hindrance. In homage to the Andean peoples – who have preserved for over 5000 years the ancestral practices and techniques of quinoa cultivation – the United Nations has declared 2013, the “International Year of Quinoa”.

A little history about quinoa

Drawing its roots from the Spanish word “quinua”, itself derived from the Peruvian “Quechua” which means “mother of all grains”, quinoa was grown on the Highlands by Incas, who called it “Chisiya Mama”. Like corn, beans or potatoes, he was very much appreciated by the South American peoples, before being “forgotten” around the 15th century, marked by the “colonization” of the American contains by Christophe Collomb. Later, around the years 1970, quinoa reappeared, and for its nutritional values, is recognized on a global scale as an ally of a healthy and balanced diet.

Quinoa features

There are 2 large families of quinoa:

-Sweet Quinoa
-Bitter quinoa , whose seeds contain a high content of saponin (toxic substance).

Quinoa is characterized by: Plants whose colour of leaves, stems and flowers can be red, orange, green, mottled… Depending on the varieties, very small seeds, sometimes a taste of hazelnut. A texture reminiscent of caviar. Rich in carbohydrates, this pseudo-cereal is divided into several varieties, the most common of which are red, black or white.

Benefits of quinoa and medicinal properties

Still called “Rice of Peru” or “Rice of the Incas”, quinoa is a food rich in protein, iron but low in calories and lipids. A true source of nutrients (Omega 3, manganese, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, zinc) and vitamins (vitamin B2, C, E) – mostly contained in its germ – quinoa is known to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease . As for the fibres in quinoa flour, they improve digestion and preserve certain cancers, including the colon. A supervitamin starch, quinoa contains all the nutritional elements essential to the maintenance of the weight. Thanks to its average glycemic index, it is privileged for a slimming diet and recommended for combating obesity and cholesterol.

A true antioxidant, anti-infective and healing, quinoa seeds are an ally for regenerating red blood cells, fortifying teeth, bones and muscle tissue. Recommended in the diet of athletes, pregnant and lactating women, the nourishing seeds of rice from Peru contribute to the development of the fetus, and have a beneficial action on fatigue, stress and intellectual activity.

Recipes ideas with quinoa

Before cooking, the quinoa seeds must be washed well several times and with great water to remove any bitter traces of saponin. Cooked sweet or savoury, it allows to diversify the food without risk of deficiencies, and replaces in accompaniment the pasta, semolina, wheat and rice. Very digestible, quinoa can be added to soups or stuffings of tomatoes, eaten in salad or serve as an ingredient to pass a pastry (quiche, pizza…), pancakes and cakes. Moreover, if it is suitable for vegetarians, quinoa is – because of the Saponin – not recommended for children under 2 years of age.

According to the botanical classification, quinoa is part of the family of leafy vegetables (Chenopodiaceae) but its nutritional value is very close to that of cereals, it is considered an equivalent of these. This plant is traditionally grown on the Highlands of South America, in the Andes Cordillera. In the years 70, the industrialized countries seeking a healthier diet were interested in quinoa. The quinoa seed is harvested after maturation of the flower: It is round, small, and it looks very much like millet (more translucent).

Before being consumed, quinoa must be rinsed abundantly as it is coated with a saponin film, a bitter resin that is used to keep birds and insects away. Quinoa can be incorporated into soups or croquettes. When ground, it can be consumed in the form of bread, pancakes or pastries. In South America it is used for shisha, a local alcoholic beverage. Quinoa is an excellent source of magnesium, iron, calcium. It is richer in protein than most cereals. In addition, the proteins present in quinoa are of better quality because it is rich in sulfur amino acid. It is therefore recommended as part of a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Composition of Quinoa:

  • Protein: 15%
  • Lipids: 6, 5%
  • Carbohydrates: 70%
  • Fibers

In retail stores, quinoa is found in several forms:

  • The seed of blond or red quinoa cooks like rice
  • The wild quinoa seed is the equivalent of wild rice: it is mixed with blond quinoa
  • Quinoa flakes are quite practical to use: simply rehydrate them with milk or soy juice to make fluffy patties. They can also be incorporated in sweet preparations such as crumble or cake dough.
  • The “milk” or quinoa juice: its flavor is quite peculiar and not suitable for all preparations.
  • Quinoa flour: Due to the absence of gluten, preparations made from quinoa flour do not rise. However, it can be used in cake preparations that require little flour.
  • Quinoa Cream: It is not a liquid cream, but a powder used to bind sauces or make desserts.
  • The “flakes” of quinoa are eaten at breakfast as cereal.
  • Blown quinoa: nature or coated with corn syrup, this is the rice soufflé version of quinoa
  • Quinoa and durum pasta are ideal for varying classic pasta.

The Impact of quinoa on health:

Quinoa is rich in fiber: The amount of fiber in a 100g serving of quinoa approximates the amount of fibre a serving of 100g of cooked rice. The fibers help to control cardiovascular diseases by trapping food cholesterol and eliminating it in the stool. They also intervene in the prevention of colorectal cancers because they allow to regulate the transit. Finally, the fibers help to control its weight because they allow a sensation of satiety earlier.

Quinoa is rich in iron: 1.85 mg iron for 20g of quinoa. However, it is non-heme iron (vegetable iron) which is very poorly absorbed by the body (in the order of 2%). In order to optimize the absorption of non-heme iron, it is desirable to consume foods rich in vitamin C at the same meal.

Quinoa is richer in lipids than other cereals: these lipids are rich in essential fatty acids, i.e. Omega 3 and Omega 6. These fatty acids represent 55 to 63% of total fatty acids and they participate in the prevention of cardiovascular disease by lowering the blood cholesterol level. Quinoa does not contain gluten, so it can be consumed during celiac disease.

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