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Food find: Quinoa

Cooked much the same way as brown rice, quinoa can be a nutritious side dish to an otherwise ordinary dinner. The seeds can be seasoned with any number of spices or eaten plain for a nutty taste. (Republican Eagle photos by Michael Brun) 1 / 3
Quinoa is a great source of protein, fiber and nutrients such as iron and zinc. Half a cup of cooked quinoa also satisfies a third of the recommend daily intake of whole grains. 2 / 3
Some packaged quinoa comes prewashed, but otherwise the seeds should be rinsed prior to cooking to remove saponins, a protective coating that can add a bitterness.3 / 3

As food fads go, 2013 was a good year for quinoa.

The popularity of the versatile seed reached such peaks that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. named 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.

The now household “grain” — it comes from a plant in the same family as spinach and sugar beets — can be found in grocery stores on its own, mixed with rice or ground into flour for baking.

Consumption of quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) may be a recent trend for many Americans, but the plant was a staple food of Andean civilizations in South America for thousands of years. Today quinoa production continues in places like Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, according to the U.N.

As it was for ancient peoples, quinoa is prized for its nutritional properties, including high amounts of protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals.

A cup of cooked quinoa has more than 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In comparison, a cup of brown rice has around 5 grams of protein and 3.5 grams of fiber.

Quinoa also is a good source of iron and zinc, having more per gram than foods like corn, rice and wheat.

Whole health

Adding quinoa to a diet is one way to get the recommended intake of whole grains, something the Minnesota Department of Health says only around 4 percent of Americans over the age of 12 get enough of. As many as 20 percent of children ages 2-18 aren’t eating whole grains at all.

The MDH recommends people get three servings of whole grains daily. Half a cup of cooked quinoa satisfies around one serving.

The benefits of whole grains come from phytochemicals, natural compounds that help ward off chronic diseases. The MDH says eating three servings per day can reduce the risk of heart disease up to 36 percent; stroke by 37 percent; Type 2 diabetes by 27 percent; and digestive cancer by as much as 43 percent.

Quinoa is typically described as having a nutty taste, and the small, spherical seeds can add some crunch to recipes. Here are some ways to prepare it as a side dish, main course or breakfast alternative:

Cooked quinoa


•1 cup quinoa

•1 1/2 cups water

Thoroughly rinse quinoa under cold water and drain in a fine-mesh sieve; or, let it soak for 15 minutes in cold water and rinse. Rinsing removes the natural coating called saponin, which can add a bitter taste.

Combine 1 1/2 cups water and rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

Quinoa and black bean salad

National Institutes of Health


•1/2 cup quinoa

•1 1/2 cups water

•1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

•3 teaspoons lime juice

•1/4 teaspoon cumin

•1/4 teaspoon coriander (dried, ground cilantro seeds)

•2 tablespoons cilantro (chopped)

•2 scallions (medium, minced)

•15 ounces black beans (can, rinsed and drained)

•2 cups tomato (chopped)

•1 red bell pepper (medium, chopped)

•1 green bell pepper (medium, chopped)

•2 green chilies

•Black pepper (to taste)

Rinse quinoa and boil in water. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until water is absorbed.

Let quinoa cool for 15 minutes. While it is cooking, mix olive oil, lime juice, cumin, coriander, chopped cilantro and scallions in a small bowl and set aside.

Combine chopped vegetables with black beans in a large bowl and set aside.

Once quinoa has cooled, combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Blueberry lemon breakfast quinoa


•1 cup quinoa

•2 cups nonfat milk

•1 pinch salt

•3 tablespoons maple syrup

•1/2 lemon, zested

•1 cup blueberries

•2 teaspoons flax seed

Rinse quinoa in a fine strainer with cold water.

Heat milk 2 to 3 minutes in a saucepan over medium heat until warm. Stir quinoa and salt into the milk and simmer covered over medium-low heat until much of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Remove saucepan from heat. Stir maple syrup and lemon zest into the quinoa and gently fold blueberries into the mixture.

Divide quinoa between two bowls and top each with 1 teaspoon flax seed to serve.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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