Since I started this blog I’ve become a food history nerd. I get excited about sexy stuff like botanical names and species, nutritional makeup, and how an ingredient was cultivated and used in a particular culture. As I learn, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of food and its long, long journey over time and distance to my plate.
If you’re unfamiliar with quinoa, chew on this . . . Today, quinoa is considered a “superfood” and I’d venture to say it’s on the brink of becoming very mainstream.
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) dates back more than 5,000 years and was a staple to millions of South American natives. The grain has a texture between millet and couscous, and can easily be substituted for rice or ground into flour. It was an ideal food in the Andes mountain region, where it sustained the altiplano Incas in Peru and Bolivia. It is high in protein and grows well in cold and high altitude areas; locations where maize could not grow.
The Incas considered quinoa to be sacred and referred to it as the “Mother Grain.” It was used in ceremonial practices, as well as consumed daily in porridges and soups. After the Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire in the 1500s, production declined for centuries. The Spaniards destroyed quinoa crops and forbid its cultivation because of its use in non-Christian rituals. Fortunately for us, the grain grew wild and people in remote villages still cultivated it.
Over the last several hundred years it has slowly re-emerged. The demand for quinoa has spread worldwide, particularly in the United States the last 40 years. If you haven’t tried it yet, now is your chance.
Take a lesson from the Incas, quinoa makes for a hearty and comforting breakfast. Like a porridge of oats or other grains, it’s easy to make and even better with cardamom, cinnamon, nuts, and dried or fresh fruit.
Tidbits on Quinoa:
- Before cooking quinoa, always rinse the grain well to remove its slightly bitter coating. Rinse as you would rice, until water runs clear.
- Quinoa is used and referred to as a grain but technically is a seed. Quinoa seeds expand about four times their size when cooked.
- Quinoa is a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids, including lysine, which is usually deficient in most grains. It is high in protein (8 grams/1 cup cooked), fiber (5 grams/1 cup) and a good source of iron, zinc, vitamin E, and selenium. It is also good for those eating gluten-free.