Referred to as the “mother of all grains”, quinoa (pronounced ‘KEEN-wah’) was an important crop for the Inca Empire. It’s quite new to the western world but has been eaten for thousands of years in South America.
Quinoa wears two hats. Although prepared and eaten as a grain, quinoa is actually a flowering plant grown primarily for its edible seeds. The quinoa seed is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids necessary for good health. Yes, quinoa counts as both a whole grain and a plant-based protein and fulfills two of your Fx Pillars:
- Pillar #4: Pick your protein: choose plants over fish over fowl over beef
- Pillar #5: Choose whole grains, preferably sprouted
Did I forget to mention that quinoa can be found in sprouted form? That’s important because when a grain or seed is sprouted, the vitamins and minerals become better absorbed by the body. They are also easier to digest and break down for those with diabetes.
More good news about quinoa—it is naturally gluten-free and can therefore be enjoyed safely by those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley that acts as a glue to hold food together. It’s responsible for the soft, chewy texture of bread.
The many forms of quinoa:
Quinoa comes in four forms: white, red, black, and tricolor.
White quinoa has a light and fluffy texture with a mild flavor. It offers the most versatility and can be used as a rice replacement, hot cereal, base for salads, and even stirred into baked goods!
Red and black quinoa are very similar, both have a crunchy texture and nuttier flavor compared to white quinoa. Although they don’t work well in sweet applications, red and black quinoa are wonderful in grain bowls, salads, and as a stand-in for rice.
You will also find quinoa in tricolor form—a lovely combination of white, red, and black quinoa.
Health benefits of quinoa
Quinoa contains plant antioxidants called flavonoids, which may have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-depressant effects. Sprouted quinoa has even higher levels of antioxidants, so you’ll want to choose it when possible.
Easy ways to incorporate quinoa into your meals
Quinoa is ready to eat in as little as 15-20 minutes and can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Check out these creative ideas using quinoa as the main ingredient.
- Use quinoa as a stuffing for acorn squash. Check out this delicious meatless meal of Acorn Squash with Quinoa and Mushroom Stuffing.
- For breakfast, enjoy a bowl of hot quinoa mixed with chopped apples, toasted walnuts, a drizzle of pure maple syrup, and a dash of cinnamon.
- On taco night replace Spanish rice with seasoned quinoa. Try this week’s feature recipe for 5-Ingredient Mexican Quinoa, created by Heinen’s Wellness Consultant Carla Iafelice.
- Trade in your burger for a plant-based burger made from sweet potato and quinoa! Here’s a fantastic recipe for Sweet & Savory Quinoa Cakes!
Food for thought …
Quinoa is an ideal make-ahead staple. It’s especially helpful when you have to throw together a quick meal. Simply prepare a big batch then store in your refrigerator for easy access throughout the week!