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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Quinoa (KEEN-wah)
by Vicki

March's Grain of the Month is Quinoa

High in the Andes, the quinoa harvest starts in late March, when farmers gather together for celebrations like the two-day Harvest Festival near the salt flats of Uyuni – a gathering of representatives from 4,000 family farms. By celebrating quinoa in March, we're honoring these timeless traditions, with information about this unique "mother grain."

Sacred to the Incas, quinoa was referred to by them as chisaya mama, or the mother of all grains. Legend has it that each year, the Incan emperor would sow the first quinoa seeds, with much solemn ceremony. Although it's estimated that Bolivians in the Lake Titicaca area began to cultivate quinoa at least five thousand years ago, quinoa came close to disappearing after 1532. That's when Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish explorer, destroyed the quinoa fields to undermine the Incan culture, built as it was on ceremonies that almost all involved quinoa. Only small pockets of wild quinoa at high altitudes survived, and quinoa was largely forgotten until its "rediscovery" by the outside world in the 1970s.

Health Benefits of Quinoa
Quinoa is known as an "ancient grain," but to most scientific researchers, it's a new kid on the block. While the existing research on quinoa pales next to well-studied grains like oats or barley, the pace of quinoa research is picking up, and presenting some intriguing preliminary data.

Quinoa is a more nutritious option for gluten free diets.

Quinoa may be useful in reducing the risk for diabetes.

Quinoa helps you feel fuller longer.

It's not surprising that quinoa supports good health, as it's one of the only plant foods that's a complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids in a healthy balance. Not only is the protein complete, but quinoa grains have an usually high ratio of protein to carbohydrate, since the germ makes up about 60% of the grain. (For comparison, wheat germ comprises less than 3% of a wheat kernel.) Quinoa is also highest of all the whole grains in potassium, which helps control blood pressure.

What's more, quinoa is gluten free, which makes it extremely useful to the celiac community and to others who may be sensitive to more common grains such as wheat – or even to all grains in the grass family.

Fun Facts about Quinoa
Here are some surprising facts about quinoa that you may be interested to learn:

  • Inca warriors ate balls of quinoa and fat to keep them going on long marches and in battle.
  • NASA has proposed quinoa as an ideal food for long-duration space flights.
  • The Natchez Indians, on the lower Mississippi River, may have cultivated a variety of quinoa.
  • Chicha is a traditional beer made from fermented quinoa.
  • A quinoa poultice or plaster was traditionally thought to heal bones, and Andean families have traditionally used the saponin-filled wash water from quinoa as a shampoo.
  • Lamb's quarters, a common weed increasingly sought after as a gourmet salad ingredient, is a cousin of quinoa.
  • Chenopodeum, the botanical name for quinoa, means "goose foot," so named because the leaves of the plant resemble the webbed foot of a goose.
  • In times of drought, when other crops in quinoa-growing areas fail, quinoa can actually increase its yields. The crop can thrive on as little as three to four inches of annual rainfall.

Cooking Tips and and a Recipe for Quinoa
Quinoa has quickly become a favorite of whole grain cooks, because its tiny grains are ready to eat in just 15 minutes! You can tell when it's done, because you'll see that little white tail– the germ of the kernel – sticking out. Like couscous, quinoa benefits from a quick fluff with a fork just before serving.

Quinoa has a subtle nutty taste that marries well with all kinds of ingredients. But make sure you rinse it well before cooking: quinoa grows with a bitter coating, called saponin, that fends off pests and makes quinoa easy to grow without chemical pesticides. While most quinoa sold today has had this bitter coating removed, an extra rinse is a good idea to remove any residue.

Quinoa with Peas - 6 servings:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the quinoa, and cook 2 minutes until toasted. Pour in the chicken broth, onion, garlic, thyme, and black pepper. Cover, and let come to a boil. Once boiling, stir in the frozen peas. Recover, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue simmering until the quinoa is tender and has absorbed the chicken stock, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in half of the Romano cheese and the parsley until evenly mixed. Scoop the quinoa into a serving dish, and sprinkle with the remaining Romano cheese to serve.

% Daily Value
157 kcal
21.8 g
8 mg
4.7 g
3 g
6.5 g
97 mg

Whole Grains Council
The Whole Grains Council is a nonprofit consumer advocacy group working to increase consumption of whole grains for better health. The WGC's many initiatives: encourage manufacturers to create delicious whole grain products.; help consumers to find whole grain foods and understand their health benefits.; and help the media to write accurate, compelling stories about whole grains.

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