Crazy for Quinoa
By Neil Zevnik
Discover how to include this highly nutritious ancient seed in your diet in surprising and delicious ways.

Imagine you are an Incan, living at dizzying heights in the Andes Mountains more than 6,000 years ago. Your entire culture is built around the “mother grain,” a life-giving seed delivered from the heavens by a sacred bird. Your god-king uses a golden staff to plant the first seed every spring, and your warriors consume it to increase their endurance and spiritual awareness. It is your primary food, the linchpin of your entire society, your connection to the gods—you offer annual ritual sacrifices for the success of its all-important harvest.

And then the Spaniards descend upon your civilization and eradicate any trace of this wondrous seed, forcing you to grow corn instead. Your crops are destroyed, your gods disavowed, your world crumbled. And quinoa, that fabled foodstuff, tragically disappears for many millennia.

Fast-forward to the 1980s, high in the Colorado Rockies, where a pair of Americans who once studied spirituality in the Bolivian Andes initiate the significant cultivation of quinoa for the first time since the Incas were wiped out. Subsequently, the United Nations declares this obscure plant a superfood with a protein value equal to that of milk; and NASA places it high on its list of possible foods for long-term manned spaceflights.

What’s the Fuss?
Historically, quinoa has had a multitude of uses beyond its culinary status. It was employed to induce vomiting, as a compress for bruises, and as a diuretic. The Incas used it to treat liver and urinary tract problems, tuberculosis, appendicitis, and altitude and motion sickness.

But the true overwhelming value of this ancient pseudo-grain lies in the fact that it is a complete protein. Unlike “true” grains, such as wheat and oats, this seed of a leafy plant related to spinach and tumbleweed contains all nine essential amino acids for protein utilization, thus making it a unique nonanimal protein source. Vegans everywhere should rejoice at the rediscovery of this amazing food!
Quinoa offers an especially generous dose of the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. And significant amounts of magnesium and riboflavin make quinoa particularly valuable to sufferers of migraines and atherosclerosis, as they help relax blood vessels and improve energy production within cells. Like all whole-grain, high-fiber foods, quinoa provides a wide array of health benefits, such as reducing the risk of high blood pressure and heart attacks, protecting against various forms of cancer, and preventing gallstones. And parents will be especially interested in a recent Dutch study, which indicated that a diet rich in whole grains combined with fish resulted in a 50 percent reduction in childhood asthma.

A superb source of complete protein and a treasure-trove of additional nutrients, quinoa is indeed a food of the gods, and one that may well prove an enormous boon to humankind in these times of burgeoning populations and diminishing food resources. And you’ll find it will make a delicious and healthful addition to any meal!

Getting and Enjoying It
Quinoa is becoming more widely available, but will mostly be found at your local health food store.

Whether you buy it in bulk or prepackaged, select it the way you would any grain—make sure there’s good turnover, that it’s fresh, and that there are no signs of moisture. Store it in a sealed container in the fridge—it’ll last for months.

Most commercially available quinoa has been processed to remove a bitter coating called saponin, which, in nature, protects the seeds from birds and heat. However, it is best to thoroughly rinse your quinoa in a fine mesh sieve under running water for a minute or two before using, to remove all traces of residue.

Quinoa Breakfast Delight Serves 2

This warming meal makes a healthful, protein-packed start to your day, and is a great alternative to oatmeal or other hot cereals.

1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 Tbs. organic honey

¼ tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup blueberries

1 banana, sliced

1/3 cup low-fat organic milk

  1. Combine quinoa and 2/3 cup water in small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer covered for about 12 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, stir in honey and cinnamon. Divide between two bowls, top with blueberries, bananas, and milk.


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