On the Table

Quinoa: Old grain is getting new interest

CORRESPONDENTApril 11, 2012 


Going global includes your diet. If you eat, itÕs hard to miss a South American staple showing up on salad bars and in bags on the grocery store shelves all across the U.S. ItÕs quinoa, and itÕs a new old grain.


Going global includes your diet. If you eat, it’s hard to miss a South American staple showing up on salad bars and in bags on the grocery store shelves all across the U.S.

It’s quinoa, and it’s a new old grain.

Pronounced KEEN-wah, it’s a native of the Andes region including Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia and Peru where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. There it’s used much the same way as we use cereal grains, though rather than a grass quinoa is technically the fruit of a plant.

Tiny grains of quinoa are flat and range in color from yellow or white to dark brown. They fluff up like rice when they’re cooked.

Unwashed quinoa has a coating of a substance called saponin. It has a bitter flavor and lathers when it gets wet. The saponin is mildly toxic, so you’ll want to rinse quinoa several times before using it. If it comes prewashed, it doesn’t hurt to give it one more rinse.

Nutritionally, quinoa is strong. It’s high in protein and dietary fiber, and it provides good amounts of B vitamins and several minerals, including iron, zinc, manganese and magnesium.

Quinoa is versatile. You can use it like rice in savory dishes such as casseroles, pilaf or salads, or use it as a side dish with cooked vegetables.

It also makes a good cooked breakfast cereal. It blends well with cinnamon, nutmeg and sweeteners like brown sugar or maple syrup.

Quinoa is also gluten-free, so it works for people who need or want to avoid gluten. Buy it at any natural foods store, conventional supermarkets including Lowe’s and Harris Teeter, and at big-box stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club.

Look for recipes online and experiment. I’ve tried quinoa in a variety of ways and they’re all good. My favorites include quinoa pudding with cooked, dried fruits and cold salads made with cooked vegetables such as spinach and sweet potatoes.

Sample quinoa when you see it on restaurant menus. I tried a delicious sweet and spicy quinoa salad from the Whole Foods Market salad bar, and I hope it’s there again when I go back.

It’s a big world of food out there with lots of healthful and good-tasting options to try. Add quinoa to your list.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor in the Departments of Health Policy and Management and Nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net and follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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