Quinoa (KEEN-wah) | by Andrea Juarez

Posted on Fri, Nov 9, 2012

Quinoa is a grain dating back more than 5,000 years to the Incas of South America. Today, quinoa is considered one of the best whole grains on the market and is touted as a “superfood.”

The grain is high in protein (8 grams per 1 cup), high in fiber (5 grams per 1 cup), and a good source of iron, zinc, vitamin E, and selenium. Quinoa is also one of the few grains qualifying as a complete protein – it contains all essential amino acids, including lysine.

It’s an excellent substitute for rice and it’s a friendly grain for those eating gluten-free.

Quinoa sustained millions of Altiplano Incas in Peru and Bolivia. It was an ideal food crop because it was high in protein and grew well in the cold, high altitude region of the South America Andes.

The Incas referred to quinoa as the “Mother Grain” and used it in ceremonial practices, as well as daily in porridges and soups. However, in the 1500s, nearly all quinoa crops were destroyed. The Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire included a ban on its cultivation because it was used in non-Christian rituals. Fortunately, the grain grew wild and remote villagers continued to cultivate it.

Over the last hundred years, quinoa production has slowly re-emerged. Demand for it has spread worldwide and it is now cultivated in the United States.

Today, quinoa can be found in most supermarkets, Hispanic and natural food stores. Quinoa comes in a variety of colors such as white, yellow, gray, red and black. In the United States, white and red quinoa are most readily available.

Before cooking, always rinse quinoa well: submerge in water and rub the seeds between fingers to remove its slightly bitter coating; change water and repeat until water runs clear. Drain.

Cooked quinoa’s texture is between that of millet and couscous – tender with a slight crunchiness. Eat quinoa for breakfast or substitute it for rice and other whole grains in salads and soups.

Sun-dried Tomato Quinoa Tabouleh Salad

Serves 4


1 cup quinoa, rinsed

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt


1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 – 10 sun-dried tomatoes, re-hydrated (if oil-packed, remove excess oil), finely chopped

1 cup fresh curly leaf parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup red onion, finely diced

1. Rinse quinoa and drain. In a medium stock pot over high heat, bring quinoa, water and salt to boil; reduce to simmer until quinoa grains become fluffy with germs separated and water is absorbed (about 15 – 20 minutes). Drain off excess water and set aside to cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, allspice, salt, pepper and garlic; whisk well. Add, cooled quinoa, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, parsley and onion. Mix well.

3. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Find recipes for Cardamom Quinoa Breakfast Porridge and Peruvian Chicken Quinoa Soup at ForkFingersChopsticks.com

Andrea Juarez is an award-winning writer and a hobbyist food anthropologist. In her blog Fork Fingers Chopsticks, she explores ingredients – one at a time – providing recipes and information about an ingredient’s cultural origins. copyright © 2010 ForkFingersChopsticks.com


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