Quinoa: Did You Know?

by | Nov 17, 2008

Quinoa is a seed plant common to the Andes of South America. Because it is not a grass, quinoa is not technically a cereal grain. For nutritional purposes, however, quinoa is considered a “whole grain” and is a fantastic alternative to rice.

Quinoa is rich in dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. But what makes quinoa stand out nutritionally is its protein content. Unlike most grains, quinoa contains a high percentage of the amino acid lysine, making it a complete protein.

A complete protein is a food that contains all essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

If you are vegetarian, acquiring all the necessary amino acids from your diet is more difficult than if you eat meat occasionally, because plant proteins are usually deficient in one amino acid or another. For grains, the missing molecule is usually lysine. Quinoa’s high lysine content makes it a nutritional powerhouse for a grain, whether you are vegetarian or not.

Quinoa can be found at many grocery stores (e.g. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) and frequently comes in a box. At some stores (e.g. Whole Foods) it can also be found in bulk.

Quinoa is much faster to prepare than other whole grains. As the New York Times recommends, I like to prepare it the same way I make rice. But it needs to be monitored more carefully, since it cooks much quicker. 10 minutes boiling should be sufficient.

I have not been able to find the red quinoa shown in the article. Let me know if you find it!

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28 Responses to “Quinoa: Did You Know?”

  1. zeus says:

    First!!!Okay, you sold me on the health benefits, where to buy it, the science behind everything. How does it taste though?!

  2. Nicholas says:

    Anyone ever heard of the PDCAAS(Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score)? Wiki explains that it qualifies protein quality based on amino acid content. This study proves that Quinoa is inferior to the pure protein of eggs and salmon.Thats why each day I eat 12 dozen eggs and I’m roughly the size of a barge!!!!!!

    • Rachel says:

      Way to go, Gaston. 🙂

    • Cat says:

      There’s more than just protein to think about here. Eggs are chicken period, they contain a lot of hormones. Before we bred chickens to produce a ridiculous amount of eggs, we would have only been eating eggs seasonally when birds were breeding. Many cancers are hormone dependent and eating heaps of little bullets of hormones is not good for you.

  3. Allie says:

    Not totally sure but I think I saw a red variety at the Produce Center in Berkeley tonight…

  4. Zachary says:

    Mmmm…cholesterol!

  5. Michelle says:

    Quinoa tastes great. I prefer it to rice in many dishes and it’s extremely versatile. So many great reasons to try it! The red kind has a more earthy flavor and looks beautiful in recipes. Foods like quinoa are my argument for why eating healthy can be cheap!

  6. Anonymous says:

    So all this talk of grains, rice, and quinoa got me thinkin’ about what this stuff really is, and I don’t know! Is quinoa related to rice or oats on a phylogenetic tree(yeah, I said it!!!!!) You should do a column on grains and their natural history, like unto the one you did on cruciferous vegetables. Looking forward to being informed…..

  7. yl4lif3 says:

    Interesting that you mentioned bulk-versus-box quinoa; what are your thoughts one way or the other on the topic? Is one more environmentally friendly or something? Is buying in bulk worth it? And who would give it the name ‘quinoa’ and then pronounce it Keenwah? I’d bet you its french….

    • pookie says:

      Quinoa is from South America, and I believe the name is from the Incas. So, the weird spelling is a Euro-language attempt by either Spanish or other European folks to make it something they could grok :]

  8. Darya Pino says:

    zeus:Like Michelle says, quinoa is delicious! Try one of the NYTimes recipes, they are fantastic!—–Nicholas:I don’t think “inferior” is the right word. You are right in that it does not have as much as eggs, but most people eat too much protein anyway. This is just one food and one source of protein. It is meant to be enjoyed!I love cartoon references btw ;)—–Allie:Cool, thanks! I don’t get to Berkeley much, but I will check it out next time I am there.—–anon1:Quinoa is not related to rice and oats, which are grasses. It is actually related to leafy green vegetables. It is of the Goosefoot genus.—–yl4lif3:Generally the difference between box vs bulk is price. Quinoa is a little more expensive than other grains, but it expands to 4 times its size, so it is still a good deal.I usually buy bulk if I can get it. One caveat is that bulk items tend to require more rinsing. I found 4 rocks in my pinto beans the other day.Presumably less packaging is better for the environment too.Quinoa is from Peru, so it is probably Spanish or a native language.

  9. julie says:

    Buying in bulk would be more environmentally friendly if you bring your own package. At Rainbow Grocery (my fave), here in SF, not only do they let you bring your own jar (tare it first), but you get 5 or 10 cents off, I can’t remember.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Haha, she said Goosefoot, genius!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Quinoa is a hardy altitude tolerant seed that originated and grown in South America, harvested by the Quechua Indians from Peru. Quinoa is the phonetic Spanish spelling of the word that the Indians used, so it originated in the early 1600s when the Spanish arrived in South America. True Story.

  12. Sonya says:

    Canyon Market in Glen Park has Red Quinoa. It’s a block up Diamond from Glen Park BART station.

  13. Darya Pino says:

    Sonya:That’s awesome, thanks!! I will definitely go get some after I get back.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I went to 4 gorcery stores this past weekend, and couldn’t find the red quinoa either. Must be such a rare and delicious treat…!

  15. Zachary says:

    As you know I’m just beginning my forays into the world of cooking for myself so I went to the store (Berkeley Bowl) again today. In my random attempts to buy stuff that I might be able to cook I purchased some quinoa (the reason being I faintly recalled this post). I bought white quinoa, but I’m almost positive that they sold white, black and your red quinoa. I’ll be sure to look more closely next time.

  16. pea body says:

    Black quinoa is sold at Rainbow Grocery in the Mission District of Frisco, but I personally dont like the little squeak it makes when you eat it, no matter how cool it looks.

  17. Jan says:

    Darya,

    I have finally started eating quinoa and I *love* it! I stopped eating white rice a while back and I simply do not like the taste of brown rice. I searched through your archives to find this article and did more research on whole grains and it seems like quinoa is one of the best sources out there! At least one of the best tasting. It definitely completes my meal.

    I took some advice from your post about packing food for traveling but I tried it for breakfast. I whipped out a can of pop top sardines and spread it over my quinoa and had a lovely meal. (I try to keep my carbs closer to the morning as I am trying to lose weight and need the day to work them off)

    But thanks a lot! I’ve been eating a lot healthier because of you. 🙂

  18. Matt says:

    I love quinoa!
    The first time I had it (made for me by someone else, who put cheese on top!!!) I disliked it – a lot. However I persevered, went out to buy the red quinoa (which I prefer way over white quinoa) – and now eat it several times a week. It’s great with roasted butternut squash, courgettes, tomatoes, red peppers and onions. Yum!

  19. Marcinoman says:

    If Quinoa is a grain and a first class protein, does it also contain carbohydrates? I have Metabolic Syndrome and cannot eat carbs. I have tried quinoa and loved it but had the feeling when I ate it that it was a carbohydrate food.

    • Darya Pino says:

      All foods contain some carbohydrates. The question is how much and how quickly do they digest. If you like quinoa, I would recommend getting your metabolic syndrome under control first by eating mostly meats and leafy vegetables. This should correct your metabolic symptoms. At that point you can try to add back small amounts of complex carbohydrates such as quinoa. However I would continue to avoid flour and sugar.

      You might enjoy this article http://summertomato.com/intact-grains-vs-whole-grains/

      • Marcinoman says:

        Thanks Darya. My metabolic syndrome is under control and my diet mostly consists of protein and vegetables and small amounts of fruit. I also eat nuts and seeds. Do you have a count on the amount of carbs in quinoa, say compared to pumpkin, which I eat small amounts of. My biggest enemies are wheat, rice and potatoes. Lentils are also a no go for me. These foods give me an instant reaction even when my metabolic syndrome is under control.

    • Darya Pino says:

      You can always find nutrition information at nutritiondata.com, but I don’t think a carb number is going to tell you much. You should be able to tell if you can handle quinoa by how you feel. For example, start by trying something simple like mixing 1/4 cup into a salad. If you don’t feel as good as you would have with plain salad, you probably can’t eat it.

  20. pookie says:

    “Nature’s Earthly Choice” Red Quinoa can be bought in bulk bags of … 3lbs? something around that… at wholesale clubs, and I’d assume you could find it online/ask your local grocer to consider ordering it. I find it is definitely different tasting, almost sweeter, but I don’t think it’s sugar sweet… anyway, it pairs really well with sweet red bean paste. 🙂

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