Meet This Grain: Quinoa
You cook it up just like other whole grains, but this quick-cooking, nutrient-packed goodie has more protein than any other. Find out how to work some in to your weekly meals.
Quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is no spring chicken in the culinary world -- its use dates back 5,000 years. According to botanical experts, quinoa is actually categorized as a seed (not a grain), but it has similar characteristics and prep methods to most grains. The individual pieces look like tiny beads and are most commonly beige in color, but red and black varieties also exist. No matter what color you choose, quinoa has a mild, nutty flavor and pleasingly chewy (but firm) texture.
Plain quinoa makes a simple side dish, but is also a common ingredient in whole-grain breads and hot and cold cereals; it’s also ground into flour to make pasta. Quinoa expands to 4 times its size when cooked, so each cup of dry grains will yield 4 cups cooked.
Where to begin?! One cup of cooked quinoa has 220 calories, 5 grams of fiber and a whopping 8 grams of protein (almost 50 percent more than an equal portion of brown rice.) You’ll also find hefty doses of thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, zinc, potassium, magnesium and selenium, along with 15 percent of your daily iron needs.
Quinoa is especially unique because it contains all the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) that your body needs. Soy is the only other plant-based food that achieves this. It's also gluten-free, so folks with gluten allergies can also enjoy this fluffy, grain-like seed.
Give dry grains a quick rinse before cooking to remove a bitter residue called saponin from its surface. To prepare quinoa, add one part of the rinsed grain to a pot with 2 parts water or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let the quinoa sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, then season and serve. You can also cook it in milk with cinnamon and honey or brown sugar for an out-of-this-world hot breakfast cereal.
Flavor up cooked quinoa with herbs, dried fruit or chopped nuts. Make a grain salad with your favorite diced veggies, beans, and crumbled feta cheese (black beans, bell pepper and diced mango is a fabulous combo). Take leftovers and combine with a sprinkle of cheese as a vegetarian filling for baked stuffed peppers.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »