Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a species of the broad-leaf goosefoot family (Chenopodium quinoa) grown as a crop primarily for its edible seeds. It is not a grass. Its leaves are also eaten as a leafy vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is currently limited.Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been an important food for 6,000 years. The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as “chisaya mama” or “mother of all grains”, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using ‘golden implements’.
Quinoa has come to be highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (14 to 20 per cent). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete food. It is a good source of dietary fibre and phosphorus and is high in copper, magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten free and considered easy to digest. In its natural state quinoa has a coating of bitter-tasting saponins, making it unpalatable. Most quinoa sold commercially in North America and Europe has been processed to remove this coating.
Quinoa is as versatile as rice, cooks rapidly (10 to 15 minutes) and can be used in creamy porridges, soups, salads, stir-fries and stews.
Quinoa, apricot and walnut porridge
200ml rice milk
4 organic dried apricots (chopped)
15g walnuts (chopped)
Wash the quinoa thoroughly and place in pan. Add rice milk and chopped apricots and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes, until the quinoa is soft. Mix in the chopped walnuts and serve.
For more recipes ideas, information about diet and health, and practical tuition in cooking with whole foods, come along to a Cooking for Health course on Cooking with Whole Foods, in Somerset, UK, with nutrition consultant and cookery teacher Dr Jane Philpott.