Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is the celebrity superfood of the Andes that is praised as much for its nutritional value, as it is for its versatility when it comes to cooking. A complete protein, it contains all 8 essential amino acids, on top of iron, calcium, vitamin E and vitamin B. What very few people know, however, is that this wonderful food is not a grain, it’s a seed. So party on you low carb and low sugar diet-loving people, and start the year right by making this your go-to ingredient for every occasion.
Quinoa has been a staple of the Andean diet for many centuries, and it grows high in the mountains despite the cold weather. The Incas considered it sacred because it provided them with energy and good health, offering it to their gods during special rituals and celebrations. The qunioa seed was grown and used not only in the territory of Peru, but also Ecuador and Bolivia, where it is still a main ingredient. The Inca himself grew the first crop of the year, using only gold instruments, because everything he touched had to be made of the precious metal. Unfortunately, once the Spanish conquerors arrived and took control of the land, they banned this sacred seed and replaced it with wheat they had brought from abroad. Now, the food is widely available in all parts of the world.
There are three types of quinoa: white, red, and black quinoa. Each variety is cooked the same way. The nutritional value is similar in all three colors, but they vary a bit in texture; the darker the seeds are, the chewier they feel on the palate. The red and black types are a great addition to salads, giving them not only a beautiful color but also an unexpected crunch. But in native South America, the white variety of quinoa is the most popular, found in every market, and used in every home.
In the States, white quinoa is also the easiest and cheapest to find. Quinoa has been exported to North America for over 25 years, but for most of that time it was relegated to health food stores and consumed by health food seeking shoppers. It is only in the past few years that it has finally been recognized as one of the wonders of the modern diet. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Office of the United Nations has even tapped 2013 at the "International Year of the Quinoa."
From breakfast to dessert, here are a few recipes to get you started.