What is quinoa?

Quinoa is one of the world's most popular and nutritious foods you can eat for optimal health.

It’s naturally gluten free and is full of fiber.

Quinoa is also a complete protein source, containing all of the nine essential amino acids, which is unusual for plant proteins (1).

You can also find other vitamins and minerals beneficials to your health including B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin E.

Needless to say, quinoa is a nutritious "super-food" with abundance of health benefits.

But, I bet you knew that already.

What you probably don't know is how it actually helps your health and why it's considered a better grain alternative.

So, in today’s article I will discuss:

  • What is quinoa?
  • Quinoa nutrition
  • Quinoa calories
  • How to cook quinoa

And hopefully after reading this, quinoa can become part of your healthy diet.

What is Quinoa? 

What is quinoa?

Quinoa which is (pronounced "KEEN-wah") is a grain like crop derived from South America.

But it's in-fact not a grain but a seed that grows from a plant in the goosefoot family, the same family that produces editable vegetables such as chard and spinach.

And while it shares the best characteristics of grains—it’s not a grain.

Quinoa is a seed which is prepared and eaten similarly to a grain.

Even though quinoa is not a grain, it does not lack in any nutritional value.

History of Quinoa

History of quinoa

Quinoa was a popular and a staple food in the diet in many of South American countries.

In fact the history of quinoa can trace back to thousands of years to the Inca people living near Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake on earth (2).

Quinoa was considered the "mother grains" of the Incas (3).

The Incas supplied their warriors with quinoa to fortify them with energy and prepare them for the battle.

And when the Spanish conquered Central & South America they forbade the cultivation of the seed which almost saw it become "extinct.”

But luckily, quinoa cultivation was restored and it is now thriving all over the world.

Although quinoa has been consumed for thousands of years in South America, it only become trendy and reached "super food status" in recent years.

With the newly acquired star of the health status, quinoa is now seen and can be bought pretty much every grocery stores across the state, including Whole Foods, Safeway, and Fred Meyer.

It is also widely available at restaurants of all kinds, health focused or not, making it more convenient integrating it into one’s daily diet.

This is what the quinoa plant looks like..

Quinoa plant

Quinoa plant grows about 1-2 m tall and has broad, powdery and alternating arranged leaves.

The color of the plant ranges form purple, green to red.

The quinoa seeds come in many varieties including red, white and black.

This is what they usually look like:

Red, white, black quinoa

Quinoa nutrition

According to, the nutrient breakdown for 1cup (185g) of cooked quinoa (4):

  • Calories 222 kcal
  • Protein 8 grams
  • Fat 3.5 grams
  • Carbs 40 grams
  • fiber 5 grams
  • Iron 2.75 mg
  • Zinc 2 mg
  • Potassium 318 mg
  • Sodium 13 mg
  • Copper 0.4 mg
  • Folate 78 µg
  • Calcium 31 µg
  • Manganese 58% RDA
  • Magnesium 118 mg
  • Riboflavin 0.2 mg
  • Quinoa contains lysine

Quinoa Protein

Aside from soy, most other plant proteins are classified as incomplete proteins meaning they lack all the essential amino acids. 

People on plant-based diets, like vegans, have to combine grains with beans or legumes to make complete proteins to ensure they obtain all the essential amino acids necessary for a healthy body.

This is typically seen in dishes that contain rice and beans, like chili. One limiting factor in cereal grains as proteins is usually the amino acid lysine.

Quinoa is a food that contains significant good portion of lysine with around 50 mg per gram of protein.

This makes it a great alternative for those on plant-based or gluten-free diets.

Quinoa Calories

One cup of quinoa total up to about 222 calories, but it has only 39 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fat.

Quinoa has surely earned its placed as a staple in healthy diets for more than a handful of reasons.

Here's why:

  • It’s gluten-free.
  • It’s one of the most complete sources of plant-based protein and has all 9 essential amino acids (next to soy).
  • It’s high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps you feel full (balance your blood sugar), and insoluble fiber helps clean out your system.
  • It’s easy for most people to digest.
  • It’s a rich source of vitamins B-1 (thiamin), B-2 (riboflavin), B-6 (pyridoxine), and B-9 (folate).
  • It’s high in polyunsaturated fat (the good fat) and low in the saturated fat (the bad fat).
  • It has twice the amount of calcium you find in whole wheat ( + is gluten free).
  • It’s full of cancer- and cardiovascular disease-fighting antioxidants.
  • It’s an abundant source of many vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and magnesium.
  • What's also amazing is, even when grounded into flour or pressed into flakes, quinoa retains all of its nutritional components.

Quinoa Gluten free

Quinoa is gluten free —great news for people with gluten intolerance.

And since most gluten free foods are made with refined starches, quinoa makes a great alternative.

Quinoa is also versatile.

It's also a bonus that quinoa is more nutritious than tapioca, potato, corn and rice flour (56). 

How to Cook Quinoa

How to cook quinoa properly

Quinoa's cooking approach is a bit different than grains. 

But it's still pretty simple.

Rinse it well to get rid of the bitter coating on the tiny seed. If you don't, it's going to leave the bitter taste. 

When rinsing, make sure to use a fine-mesh strainer. You don't want those tiny quinoa seeds to disappear down the drain.

Here's how I do it:

  • 1 cup of quinoa
  • 2 cups of water in medium saucepan/ bring it to a boil.
  • Cover it, reduce heat to low, and slimmer until quinoa is tender for about 15-20 minutes.  

When cooked, the quinoa will become a little translucent. 

You can also cook it in a rice cooker following the same directions, making it far easier and more convenient. 

If you'd like to add some more flavor, use vegetable or chicken broth instead of water. You can also add a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of herbs like parsley for an extra taste.

How to Make 'Quinoa salad'

Quinoa salad

Typically quinoa is used in salads.

Add vegetables like cucumber, red onion, corn, and tomato with some cooked quinoa for a protein packed power salad.

Combine with a dressing of fresh herbs like parsley, mint with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Then top with some fresh avocado.

Done. Enjoy.

Other ways to use quinoa

Quinoa is pretty versatile, and like most grains, it can be used in a variety of ways including:

  1. Alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes. Even traditional dishes like tabouli can be made fresh by substituting quinoa for Bulgur wheat.
  2. Use sprouted quinoa in salads and sandwiches, instead of alfalfa. Tasty and delicious sprouts also increase the antioxidant value.
  3. Add to soups and stews for added texture and nutrients.
  4. Cooked, sprouted and ground quinoa can also be used in baking. Ground quinoa flour is usually combined with other gluten free flours as it can be pretty dense by itself.

Think outside the box for more culinary uses for this delicious and nutritious superfood.

There you have it! You just learned what is quinoa and how to cook it.

Do you have any awesome quinoa tips and recipes you'd like to share? Leave a comment below to let me know.



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