Quinoa is fast becoming the celebrity grain, even though it is not really a grain. With the exponential growth of the gluten-free industry this gluten-less grain is turning out to be an answer to prayer. Quinoa is not a true grain however, and is actually a member of the grass family and most closely related to tumbleweed, spinach and beet. Historically, the Incas believed this “mother of all grains” to be sacred and was forbidden by the Europeans when they learned of its importance in indigenous ceremonies.
Quinoa is a brilliant food, because it is a complete protein, meaning that it contains a balanced complement of all the essential amino acids (including lysine) needed by the body. This a rare attribute in the plant kingdom, and something that many vegetarians take advantage of. Quinoa is a great source of phosphorous, magnesium, iron and fiber. What makes quinoa so appealing is the fact that it contains no gluten and so it is easy to digest and its nutritional content easily assimilated into the body.
However, quinoa lovers must be careful because like the grains that they are often compared to, quinoa in its natural state has a coating that may make it unpalatable. Like the phytates of true grains, the saponins of quinoa are bitter tasting and act as a natural defense against predators. These saponins are toxic and are an act as irritants to the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract. The saponins should be removed thoroughly before cooking and this is done by soaking for a few hours, changing the water and soaking for again. Pre-packaged quinoa may not be pre-soaked and may even be contaminated with gluten in the processing plant.
Once soaked and rinsed, quinoa is quite easy to prepare. It is cooked like rice, except it takes less time especially when soaked. It can replace any grain in combination with vegetables or meats. It is also suitable as a breakfast cereal with raisons, nuts or honey. Quinoa makes a great salad and can replace the bulgur wheat in tabouleh. There several recipes available on line, and if you follow the necessary precautions you can have a lot of fun cooking with quinoa.