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Year of the Quinoa

What is it?

Quinoa is a small round seed that looks similar to couscous, but with a richer, nuttier taste. A staple food of the ancient Incas, Quinoa has been grown in Peru, Bolivia and other areas of the Andes mountains for thousands of years. While it is often classified as a cereal grass along with wheat, barley and rye, Quinoa is actually not a grain at all, but rather a member of the same family as spinach and beets.

The Quinoa plant can survive extremely harsh weather and growing conditions, including cold air, little rainfall, sandy soil, and high altitude, and in fact tastes sweeter when grown over 12,500 feet. While most of the world’s Quinoa is grown in South America, it can be grown in the United States in places of particularly high elevation, such as the Colorado Rocky Mountains and certain areas of the Pacific Northwest. Scientists are still working to develop techniques for cultivating Quinoa in the US.

Nutritional Benefits

Quinoa has been called one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and for good reason. This supergrain is particularly protein-rich and contains all nine essential amino acids, which is a nutritional deficiency of most other grain foods. It is high in fiber, iron, lysine, magnesium, Riboflavin and manganese, all nutrients critical for a healthy heart, skin, nerves and digestive system. Unlike other grains, Quinoa is also a good source of calcium and healthy monounsaturated fats.

Quinoa is almost always grown organically, and considered kosher by most rabbis and consumers for Passover season. Additionally, Quinoa is a healthy, nutrient-rich and filling food for those with dietary restrictions such as vegetarians or vegans, who are often in search of alternative sources of protein that fit their dietary needs. On all fronts, Quinoa is a great staple food for all kinds of consumers, which is why it’s quickly become so popular worldwide.

How to Cook Quinoa

Quinoa is quick and easy to prepare, and extremely versatile for use in all kinds of recipes. After purchasing packaged Quinoa, soak it to remove the bitter coating that covers the seeds, which keeps birds from eating it. Rinse until the soapy residue is gone, and then drain and pour the seeds into a pot with water and a bit of salt. Bring the pot to a boil, and then cover and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. After removing from heat, the Quinoa can be served any way you’d like-- on its own with a little butter or olive oil like rice, or in a salad or stir fry. It can also make a healthy hot breakfast option when mixed with fruit, cinnamon, milk and honey. There are hundreds of delicious recipes available for incorporating Quinoa into your meals, particularly for vegetarians, vegans, and others with dietary restrictions.

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