Nutritionally, quinoa might be considered a super grain–although it is not really a grain, but the seed of a leafy plant that’s distantly related to spinach. Quinoa has excellent reserves of protein, and unlike other grains, is not missing the amino acid lysine, so the protein is more complete (a trait it shares with other “non-true” grains such as buckwheat and amaranth). The World Health Organization has rated the quality of protein in quinoa at least equivalent to that in milk. Quinoa offers more iron than other grains and contains high levels of potassium and riboflavin, as well as other B vitamins: B6, niacin, and thiamin. It is also a good source of magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese, and has some folate (folic acid).
An ancient grain-like product that has recently been “rediscovered” in this country, quinoa has a light, delicate taste, and can be substituted for almost any other grain.
Though quinoa is a recent addition to the North America, this crop, native to the Andes, sustained the ancient Incas, and has been cultivated continuously for more than 5,000 years. Quinoa thrives in poor soil, arid climates, and mountainous altitudes. Today, most quinoa is imported from South America, although it is being cultivated on the high slopes of the Colorado Rockies.
Quinoa grains are about the same size as millet, but flattened, with a pointed, oval shape. The color ranges from pale yellow through red and brown to black. Quinoa cooks quickly to a light, fluffy texture. As it cooks, the external germ, which forms a band around each grain, spirals out, forming a tiny crescent-shaped “tail,” similar to a bean sprout. Although the grain itself is soft and creamy, the tail is crunchy, providing a unique texture to complement quinoa’s delicate flavor.