Wednesday, January 6, 2010


As many as 10% of us have Gluten Intolerance (see blog 12/27/09) and QUINOA (keen-wah) is a storehouse of wonderful nutrition and can be used as a wheat substitute. It has 2 grams of magnesium, 6 of protein and 3 of fiber in a ¼ cup! Quinoa is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a grass. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beets, and spinach. Its leaves are also eaten as a leafy vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is currently limited.

Quinoa was of great nutritional importance in Andes mountain civilizations for over 5000 years. Locally referred to as “Mother Grain”, being secondary only to the potato, and was followed in importance by corn, it kept the Incan armies strong and robust. In contemporary times, this crop has become highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%), making it a healthy choice for vegetarians and gluten intolerants. Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete protein source almost as complete as the milk protein, casein. Lysine is one of eight essential amino acids - building blocks of protein - that the body cannot manufacture on its own. As a building block of protein, lysine benefits the body by contributing to growth in babies and children. Lysine benefits also include production of carnitine, a substance that converts fatty acids into energy and lowers levels of LDL cholesterol.
In addition, lysine benefits the skeletal system by contributing to the production of collagen, the protein used to make bone, tendons, cartilage and connective tissue. Calcium absorption is also facilitated by lysine, and lysine benefits the skin by helping to maintain its health and elasticity.

Quinoa is easy to digest and is ideal for the first “grain cereal” given to infants. Many doctors feel giving oats, wheat, and barley to infants sets them up for a life long allergic problem. Because of all the above characteristics, quinoa is recommended by the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations for under developed countries and is being considered a possible crop in NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights.

Raw quinoa has a sapin coating that is irritating to the digestive tract causing gas, cramps and diarrhea and must be washed off before consumption. Most boxed quinoa has been pre-rinsed and some even sprouted (germinated) for convenience. Sprouting any grain by leaving it in room temperature for a given period of time enhances its healthy attributes. Quinoa may be germinated in its raw form to boost its nutritional value by leaving it in water for only 2 hours at room temperature. Wheat takes 12! Germination activates its natural enzymes and multiplies its vitamin content.

A common cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups of water to a boil with one cup of grain, covering at a low simmer and cooking for 14–18 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight hardness to it (like al dente pasta). As an alternative, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa, treating it just like white rice (for both cooking cycle and water amounts). Vegetables and seasonings can also be added to make a wide range of dishes. Chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking, adding flavor. It is also suited to vegetable pilafs, complementing greens like kale and spinach. Quinoa can be added to salads and other cold foods to enhance filling of the stomach and give a health boost. Quinoa can serve as a high-protein breakfast food mixed with xylitol (see blog 12/21/09), almonds, or berries. It is also sold as a dry product, much like corn flakes. Quinoa flour can be used in wheat-based and gluten-free baking. For the latter, it can be combined with sorghum flour, tapioca, and potato starch to create a nutritious gluten-free baking mix. A suggested mix is three parts quinoa flour, three parts sorghum flour, two parts potato starch, and one part tapioca starch. Quinoa flour can be used as a filling for chocolate.

This powerhouse nutritional product is available at some avant guarde grocery stores, but is readily purchased at most Health Food Shopps. “PEARL QUINOA-Soul Food of the Andes” has recently been promoted by ALTER ECO a Bolivian coop that is democratically managed by its farmers for sustainable development with profits used for organic programs and is the product that we have used with ease. It comes in easily sealed bags for about $8/lb. For all those interested in their own and the health of their loved ones, I sincerely recommend this nutritious and versatile health food.