Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Healthy Addition to Your Family's Diet

If you have never heard of quinoa (KEEN-wah) you aren't alone. This grain like seed has been a staple in the diet of natives of the Andes Mountains for thousands of years. Recently brought to America for cultivation, quinoa has a number of amazing health benefits and its versatility makes it easy to add to any diet.

The quinoa plant prefers high elevations and poor quality, somewhat alkaline soil. It doesn't require much water and likes arid climates. Because the seed is coated with a bitter tasting resin called saponin, it doesn't fall prey to the depredations of birds or insects making it very easy to grow. Quinoa is also called goose foot due to the shape of its leaves which resemble the webbed feet of geese. It is related to swiss chard, spinach and beets.

The quinoa seed is high in protein, about 14% to 18%. Unlike grains, the protein found in quinoa is complete. It also contains calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, vitamin E and several of the B vitamins. It is high in amino (fatty) acids. In fact, quinoa is one of the most complete foods on the planet.

Quinoa can be used in place of rice or couscous as a side dish. It has a mild, nutty flavor. There are many varieties, but the three best known types are the white, black and red varieties. There are slight differences in the taste of each variety. The texture of cooked quinoa is light and fluffy and it has a slight crunch. It is very easily digested and is suggested as a grain substitute for people on special diets for gluten intolerance, celiac disease and autism.

You can add quinoa to casseroles soups and stews or you can cook it like rice as a side dish. Added cold to salads, it can be combined with legumes like chick peas to enhance their protein. It also enhances the protein of other grains when mixed with them. Quinoa encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract and it contains fiber for good intestinal health.

While quinoa which is sold commercially has usually been rinsed, it is wise to rinse it again before cooking to make sure there is no residue of saponin. Saponin will create a suds in the water and it is bitter to the taste. Quinoa can be cooked like rice, two parts water to one part quinoa. Add the quinoa to boiling water and reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. You may substitute fruit juice for the water for a sweet tasting, healthy and delicious alternative to oatmeal.

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