Keen to conquer quinoa? Try these trusty techniques.
Quinoa may be a rather recent addition to our plates in the UK but it’s making quite the impact. It is an ingredient oﬅen used in place of rice and has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, mainly due to its strong nutritional credentials. Oﬅen compared to barley and bulgar wheat, it is in fact free from gluten, meaning it can be a great alternative for those looking for something to add some weight to their meals whilst avoiding gluten.
Where Does it Come From?
Quinoa may have only recently marched onto the radars of foodies in the UK, but in South America the story is rather diﬀerent. It has been a staple ingredient in the Inca diet for 5,000 years, mainly because it could be harvested at high altitudes in the Andes. Commonly grown in Bolivia and Peru, it’s a plant that was mostly cultivated by preColumbian civilisations, until the Spanish arrived and replaced it with cereals. Before the plant was domesticated, the majority of the plant was used, including the leaves and seeds, whereas in modern cooking it is generally just the seeds which are used.
For all of its brilliant benefits (see below), quinoa has come under some criticism for the ethical implications surrounding huge Western consumption. The main concern is that now the demand for quinoa has risen so rapidly, this has meant that the price of it has also dramatically increased. As a result, the local Andean population, who have
traditionally have grown and eaten the crop, now can’t aﬀord it — resulting in having to move to cheaper junk food alternatives. For those who don’t want to contribute to buying South American quinoa, there are now British grown varieties.
It is no wonder that quinoa is gaining prominence in Western diets, thanks to its high nutritional value. In particular, its popularity within the vegan population has been due to it being a complete protein — meaning it packs all nine essential amino acids needed by the human body. It has twice the protein content of rice and barley, and is a good source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, several B vitamins, vitamin E and dietary fibre. It is also high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which make it beneficial to human health in prevention and treating diseases. In comparison to common cereal grasses, quinoa has a higher content of monounsaturated fats and contains small amounts of omega 3. The UN actually named 2013 International Quinoa Year, in recognition of the high nutrient content of the crop.
According to the Whole Grains Council, there are around 120 diﬀerent variety of quinoa, however there are three widely harvested varieties for commercial purposes: white, red and black. Of these, the most neutral flavour-wise, but also the most commonly found is white quinoa, ideal for quinoa beginners. Red and black quinoa varieties tend to be used, predominantly, to add some colour to a dish, but also have their own distinct flavour characteristics.
Where to Use?
It’s the norm to use quinoa in place of grains like rice, where you are increasing the nutritional value of your meal. However, it also acts as a great additional ingredient in stews, tomato-pasta dishes or salads, where it tends to bulk out the dish making it even more filling. However, we only just seem to be scraping the surface of uses for quinoa, find some quinoa recipes on the following pages, including using quinoa in baking.
Does it Need a Rinse?
It is common to try quinoa at home and initially be put oﬀ by the bitter flavour. However, this is usually a result of not rinsing it before cooking. Saponin is the natural coating that surrounds quinoa and can be found in other plant families such as legumes. This coating gives quinoa a soapy, bitter flavour if it is not washed oﬀ and therefore, for
most quinoa enthusiasts, rinsing is the best way to start preparing the grain. This will also help to prevent them from sticking together when being cooked, also giving a nicer texture once cooked.
How to Cook?
The rule of thumb for cooking quinoa is to use one part quinoa to two parts water. It can be diﬀicult to decide how much to cook, but to help you gauge an idea; cooking 1 cup of dry quinoa will tend to make around 3 cups of cooked quinoa. Cooking quinoa takes a similar amount of time to cook as rice, allow around 20 minutes for 1 cup. Add flavour to your quinoa by cooking in veggie stock or by adding some of your favourite delicious spices whilst it cooks. It can sometimes be best to think of quinoa as a blank canvas, ready to take on the flavour of other parts of the dish, as the flavour of quinoa itself is subtle and easy to adapt.
How Long Will it Last?
Quinoa isn’t the cheapest of cupboard ingredients to buy, so once you’ve got it, you want it to last. Make sure that it is kept dry before use, as any moisture will aﬀect how fresh the grain is. Therefore, it is oﬅen best to store in an airtight container until you are ready to use it, keeping it in a cool, dry location. It should then last for a few months, giving you plenty of time to get your quinoa fix.