Origins & Information - (A-Z) Quinoa

The first time I saw quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), I thought that it was a very pretty looking grain. It comes in small translucent spheres with solid rings near the middle which I learned was the "germ ring." Now, I've always had it cold in tangy salads/sides but it's quite the versatile seed. I say seed because though it is used very much like a grain in how it is prepared and added in food, it is actually a seed; quinoa would be classified as a pseudocereal because cereals/grains themselves are derived from grasses and their cultivated parts are the endosperm, germ, and bran of their fruit seeds. Quinoa, on the other hand, can be eaten entirely as it is a plant but the most common part eaten is the seed. It grows at high elevations and does well in bad soil and extreme weather. The seeds themselves can be a multitude of colors (red, purple, green, yellow, etc) but we mainly see them as off-white.

It originated in the Andean mountains of South America and was first recorded to have been eaten by the Incas. It was their mother grain (chisaya mama for 'mother of all grains'), a staple crop alongside corn and potatoes. Used in ceremonies to strengthen warriors and honored so much that the first seeds of the crop were harvested by the emperor himself, quinoa fields were destroyed with Spain's invasion and forbidden to be grown.  However, it had been growing in the mountains for a while and was rediscovered in the 1980s by Colorado hikers. Now it is found ubiquitously in health food stores and some mainstream stores as well.

So what's the deal with quinoa? Why should you care about it? It's quite the superfood! Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it has all nine essential amino acids - it's the perfect "grain" for vegetarians, vegans, and those who are worried about getting enough protein in their diets. With about 16.2%, it has more than double the protein content of rice. Quinoa also has high levels of lysine which helps tissue growth and repair. It is rich in calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, copper, potassium, zinc, and fiber. In fact, because of its healthy levels of amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, it is one of the most "complete" foods you can have in your diet. I should also mention that it is gluten-free and low on carbohydrates for those who are watching what they eat.

If you're thinking that getting quinoa would make it difficult for you to cook, have no fear! I'm not here just to give historical information. If you're going to jump on the health bandwagon and try out this superfood, go for it. Though most companies have pre-rinsed their seeds, you can also take precaution and soak your seeds for a little while before cooking them. This process is due to quinoa's saponins, the soapy resin on the seed's outside that acts as a minor laxative. Then you should just cook it as you would rice with a 1.5-2:1 ratio of cups of water to cups of quinoa; 1 cup of the seed will yield 4 cups of cooked quinoa. If you're wondering how to cook in a pot, combine water and seed and bring to a boil. Then, let it simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the seeds become translucent. Use it as you would other grains or for some ideas, there's a neat blog I found that offers only recipes which contain quinoa! Check it out at

This post is part of an A-Z series I am running for my blog category "Origins and Information" while I am in Vietnam with my family for July. Many of the posts in the series answer questions that were posed by friends/readers. If y'all enjoy the series, I will gladly run another in the future!