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Quinoa – A High Protein Alternative To Grains

You may or may not be familiar with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). It’s relatively new to most people but has been cultivated in South America for over 5,000 years. The ancient Incas considered it sacred, referring to it as the “mother grain”.

Quinoa looks like a grain, tastes like a grain and you cook it like a grain. But it’s not a grain, it’s actually a seed from a leafy green plant distantly related to spinach.

So Why Should You Be Eating Quinoa

Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all eight of the essential amino acids, which is unusual for plant based protein sources. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and are required for proper growth, maintenance and repair of the body. This makes quinoa ideal for anybody looking to add extra protein to their diet, especially vegans and vegetarians who can find it difficult to get adequate protein.

How Do You Use Quinoa?

Any way you like really. Quinoa doesn’t have a strong taste making it extremely versatile. You can add cooked quinoa to salads, casseroles, soups and stir fries to make them more substantial. Add chopped spring onion, freshly ground black pepper, fresh basil and drizzle with olive oil for a simple and tasty side dish instead of rice or pasta. Quinoa also works as a warm breakfast cereal, just add some chopped nuts/seeds, fresh berries, a sprinkle of xylitol or drizzle of agave nectar and some cinnamon.

Quinoa is much lighter than grains and starchy foods so you don’t feel sluggish or overly full after eating it. Qualities that have made it popular among athletes and celebrities.

Varieties

The most popular and readily available quinoa is the yellow/white variety ( or “golden” if you’re fancy), but there are quite a few varieties on the market including red, orange, black and purple. I’ve tried red quinoa, which is naturally firmer than the yellow/white variety. It’s nice from time to time, but I personally prefer the more common yellow/white type.

Vitamin And Mineral Content

Besides quinoa’s excellent amino acid content it also contains:

- Magnesium
- B1 (Thiamine)
- B2 (Riboflavin)
- B6 (Pyridoxine)
- Zinc
- Phosphorus

All essential for proper muscle function and healthy cells.

How To Cook – Light & Fluffy or Firm & Nutty

Quinoa has a protective outer coating of bitter tasting saponins which must be removed before eating. Traditionally this was done by rinsing and soaking for a few hours and then repeating. Fortunately most commercially available quinoa has already been rinsed, removing the saponins. I still rinse the seeds in a fine mesh strainer and then allow them to drain for a minute before cooking, but the choice is yours.

Quinoa’s texture is determined by how long you cook it. You cook it pretty much the same way as you would rice, using double the amount of water as the amount of grain, so 1/2 cup quinoa to 1 cup water. Like rice, quinoa will double in quantity when cooked. Cook for 10 minutes and then remove from the heat and allow to absorb any left over liquid, about 3-5 minutes. This will give you a soft fluffy texture. Or if you want a firmer more nutty texture, remove from the heat after ten minutes and drain off any remaining liquid as you would pasta, to prevent further cooking. Experiment with the different cooking methods to find which you prefer.

Cooked quinoa stored in an airtight container in the fridge will hold for up to seven days.

Here’s A Tip To Speed Up Cooking Time

I have recently started to soak quinoa in a bowl overnight, and then rinse it and drain before cooking. Soaking overnight really speeds up the cooking time, about 6 minutes! Don’t worry if you forget to soak the quinoa overnight, even soaking for a couple of hours will really cut the total cooking time.

Note: If you are cooking quinoa that has been soaked reduce the amount of liquid by about a half, but keep an eye on it and add more water if needed to avoid it sticking to the end of the pot.

Quinoa Recipe

So there you have it a healthy “grain” full of lean muscle building amino acids. If you’re still unsure about cooking quinoa check the new recipe section tomorrow for a step-by-step guide with photos! SO exciting I know ;)

Have you tried quinoa? Do you have any recipe ideas? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Check out my Red Pepper & Onion Quinoa Recipe in the new recipe section

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