Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is a gluten-free pseudograin and a source of protein in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, whether sprouted or cooked. The small seeds with the bitter coating removed are full of nutrients. Red quinoa, also known as Inca red, white, also known as ivory white, and black quinoa are the most common varieties.
How should you use quinoa? Quinoa can be eaten like couscous and rice. The mustard-size seeds can be cooked whole and served as a tasty side dish to any meal. Cooked quinoa can also be used in salads, fruit salads, stuffed vegetables, and patties. Quinoa can be turned into flour and used to give bread, cakes, and other baked goods a delicious nutty taste. Quinoa powder can be added to smoothies, shakes, soups, and pancake mixes. Quinoa-based cereals are a popular gluten-free breakfast option, including quinoa flakes, puffed quinoa, quinoa kernels, and muesli mixes. Puffed quinoa is a popular ingredient in homemade bars and treats.
In order to increase the absorption rate of the iron found in quinoa, you should combine quinoa with fruits or vegetables rich in vitamin C.
In general, you should rinse quinoa well under running water before cooking. If you have the time, soak the seeds for several hours and drain.
If you grow your own quinoa, you can use the plant’s leaves in the kitchen — they are rich in minerals and can be eaten raw or cooked!
Pseudograins such as quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth are not ideal foods for babies. This is because these grains may expose babies to substances such as tannins and saponins, which are harmful as they interfere with the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and proteins.1
Apart from being popular in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, quinoa can also be used to brew gluten-free beer.
First, heat 50 g coconut oil and mix with 80 g puffed quinoa, 50 g almond butter, 2 tbsp cocoa, and 50 mL agave syrup until combined. Add a handful of chopped Brazil nuts. You can season the mixture to taste with vanilla extract and/or cinnamon. Place the bar mixture on a sheet of baking paper and cover with a second sheet. Use a rolling pin to evenly spread out the mixture. Refrigerate for two hours before cutting into bars. Makes approximately 10 servings.
To make 2 to 3 servings, marinate 200 g tofu in a mixture of soy sauce, paprika, turmeric, cilantro, and chili powder. Heat one tablespoon of coconut oil in a wok and then brown a diced onion. Add 100 g quinoa and deglaze with 400 mL coconut milk and a little soy sauce. While the quinoa is cooking, fry the tofu with some coconut oil in a separate pan. Season the quinoa curry with red curry paste, top with the tofu, and serve. If you would like, you can add vegetables such as bell peppers, peas, broccoli, and bok choy to the curry.
Quinoa is usually sold prerinsed as this makes it taste less bitter.2 Quinoa seeds, which average approximately 1 to 2 mm in diameter and weigh approximately 1 to 5 mg, are available in health food shops and organic supermarkets. Since growing in popularity throughout Europe and the US as an alleged superfood, quinoa is now available at all major supermarkets including Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, and Holland & Barret (Great Britain); Metro, Extra Foods, and Goodness Me (Canada); Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, and Harris Farm (Australia). Not only is quinoa available in a wide variety of colors, you can also purchase quinoa flakes, quinoa puffs, and quinoa flour.
When buying quinoa, you should look for certified Fairtrade organic quinoa. The worldwide explosion in demand has left indigenous mountain populations in South America unable to afford what has long been a staple food for their community. By buying Fairtrade quinoa, you are ensuring that farmers in the Andes and Bolivia are profiting from their labor.
Quinoa production in the US, Canada, and Europe is underway; however, it is not widespread and quinoa grown outside South America remains a niche product. You may be able to find regionally grown quinoa at local markets or by contacting farmers directly. European quinoa is harvested and dried in autumn, after which the local season begins.
Quinoa should be stored dry in an airtight container in a dark place. This prolongs its shelf life by preventing pest infestation, molding, and oxidation.
Why is quinoa so healthy? Quinoa contains more protein than most grains and is an excellent source of the essential amino acid lysine (0.77 g/100 g or 41 % of the recommended daily intake). Grains originating from Europe only contain moderate amounts of lysine, and lysine in wheat and spelt is therefore classified as a limiting amino acid. Conversely, excessive quantities of methionine are contained in European grains, whereas it is classified as a limiting amino acid in quinoa.3 Quinoa is a particularly rich source of vegetable protein, with approximately 14 g of protein per 100 g4 and a biological value of 83.5 In comparison, common grains have a much lower biological value of 60 to 70, while buckwheat also has a very high biological value of 80 to 93. Biological value is measured against the value of a whole egg, which has been given a value of 100. Combining quinoa with a grain such as wheat or spelt can create a protein-rich meal.3
What nutrients does quinoa contain? On top of antioxidants, flavonoids, numerous vitamins, and trace elements,6 quinoa is rich in manganese (2 mg/100 g or 102 % of the recommended daily intake) and folate. Quinoa contains 184 µg/100 g folate (92 % of the recommended daily intake RDI). However, significantly higher amounts of manganese are found in hazelnuts (3095), hemp seeds (380 %), raw teff (462 %), and bran (raw wheat bran 575 % and raw rice bran 711 %). Similarly, significantly higher amounts of folate can be found in dried dulse (635 %), in raw beans such as yard-long beans, moth beans, catjang, cowpeas, mung beans, adzuki beans, and cranberry beans (302 to 329 %), as well as in raw chickpeas (279 %) and in dried wild garlic (276 %).4
How many carbohydrates are in quinoa? You can find detailed information in the nutrition tables below.
In 2016, the controversial, hypercritical German food chemist Udo Pollmer made some confusing assertions about quinoa containing gluten. (TV Program: Mahlzeit! - Superfood-Hype um Quinoa [Mealtime! — superfood hype around quinoa]. In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur, July 16, 2016.) These comments refer to a 605-page document published for the International Year of Quinoa. This comprehensive document is called “State of the Art Report on Quinoa around the World in 2013” and was published by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and CIRAD (Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement). Subchapter 3.6 deals with quinoa, celiac disease, and gluten-free nutrition:
Quinoa is considered gluten-free, although it may contain very small amounts of storage proteins typically found in grains and gluten. However, these proteins appear in very small quantities, never exceeding the maximum amount of gluten that may be labeled gluten-free (20 mg/kg). Quinoa thus receives gluten-free certification and can be safely consumed in a strictly gluten-free diet. Quinoa proteins are divided into albumins, globulins, prolamins, and glutenins. Albumin and globulin account for 76.6 % of quinoa’s protein. The gluten proteins in quinoa are glutenin (12.7 %) and prolamin (7.2 %).8 The amount of prolamins in quinoa varies considerably depending on variety and location. In the laboratory, low concentrations of prolamins (<20 mg/kg) were extracted from 15 varieties of quinoa from the Andes. Seven quinoa varieties showed values ranging from 0.48 mg/kg (“Rojo Achachino”) to 3.56 mg/kg (“Ayacuchana”).7
Gluten is composed of two types of protein (“Osborne fractions”). In wheat, the protein complex gluten consists of gliadin (prolamin fraction) and glutenin (glutenin fraction), which bind together to create compounds. These two protein reserves account for the largest protein fraction in wheat (80 %) and occur at a ratio of 1:1.8,9
Based on current research, quinoa is a suitable food for individuals with celiac disease (also known as celiac sprue and gluten-sensitive enteropathy).7 From a nutritional perspective, quinoa can be eaten as a complete substitute for grains.10 Before buying quinoa, check that it has a certified gluten-free label.
The German Coeliac Society (die Deutsche Zöliakiegesellschaft e.V), the Swiss association for nutrition (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Ernährung), and the Federal Commission for Nutrition in Switzerland (Eidgenössische Ernährungskommission), among other institutions, recommend certified gluten-free quinoa and quinoa products for people with celiac disease.
Why should quinoa be washed? The quinoa plant has a bitter-tasting coating called saponin to protect itself from pests. Washing, soaking, and sprouting the seeds can considerably reduce the amount of saponins. Boiling quinoa will further remove approximately one-third of the remaining spaonins.10 Research by the University of Hohenheim (Stuttgart) has confirmed that sprouting reduces the amount of saponins in quinoa. The sprouting process can be accelerated if you soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before sprouting. This is a reliable way to reduce saponins.6 A small residual amount of saponins is not harmful for people with a healthy metabolism.10
As saponins have not been extensively investigated, only a broad recommended daily intake can be given. According to a 2004 nutrition report by the German Nutrition Society, the estimated average daily intake of saponins is <15 mg.11 Knowledge of saponins is based on the main saponin classes, with little research existing on other subclasses of saponins. Saponins have been proven to be somewhat effective in preventing certain diseases, having anticarcinogenic, antibiotic (antifungal), and cholesterol-lowering effects.11,12
Studies show that quinoa is well tolerated by patients with celiac disease. Further studies are necessary to demonstrate that quinoa does not have negative effects on the mucous membrane of the small intestine. Longitudinal studies evaluating the long-term effects of quinoa consumption by patients with celiac disease are furthermore still lacking. Nonetheless, it is currently considered safe for people with celiac disease to consume quinoa.7
Quinoa contains relatively high concentrations of tannins, oxalates, and phytates. These natural substances may bind proteins, enzymes, minerals, and trace elements, reducing nutrient uptake. Quinoa’s saponin content, which varies considerably depending on the type of quinoa, produces hemolytic activity (breakdown of red blood cells) and can affect the permeability of the intestinal epithelium. Studies show that various techniques can remove up to 95 % of quinoa’s saponin content. However, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has no data on the saponin content of quinoa products on the European Market.13
Infants and young children should avoid consuming quinoa, one reason for this being that quinoa contains isoflavones (phytoestrogens). The potential negative long-term effects of quinoa on young children remain under discussion.13
The Inca people considered quinoa a remedy for sore throats.10
Genetic and morphological research of the species complex that includes quinoa indicates that quinoa originated in North America. The grain spread to South America through Indian tribes during the pre-Columbian era. Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andes for around 5,000 years. It does not require much maintenance and thrives at altitudes of up to 4,200 meters. Quinoa remains an important staple food for the mountain populations living in these elevated regions today, especially considering that maize can’t be cultivated at such altitudes.10
Quinoa is a low-maintenance crop and copes well with barren soil, dryness, and cool temperatures. Excessive soil moisture should be avoided at all costs. Potatoes, grains, and maize are ideal crops to grow in areas where you will later grow quinoa. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables that leave large amounts of nitrogen in the soil are not suitable to plant before quinoa. Before planting, you should thoroughly clear the soil of weeds and loosen the soil to a considerable depth. Quinoa seeds should be sown in mid- to late April in rows spaced 30 to 50 cm apart and a gap of 15 cm between seeds in the same row. In continental climates such as Central Europe and northern parts of the US, quinoa plants require little maintenance and don’t need special fertilizer. They will grow to 50 to 150 cm in height and can be harvested between the end of August and the end of September (in the Northern Hemisphere). The plants should be harvested under as dry conditions as possible. Hang them upside down until they are completely dry — you can tell by whether the quinoa seeds can be easily shaken out of their pods.14
You should rinse quinoa well with hot water before use. This reduces the content of saponins that give the seeds a bitter taste.
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared 2013 the Year of Quinoa. Thanks to properties such as needing comparatively very little water for cultivation, quinoa has the potential to be a staple food to fight world hunger. Growing quinoa in the Himalayan region in India is currently under consideration.10 Studies show that growing quinoa also helps to make European agriculture more sustainable.7
South America is the dominant cultivation area for quinoa. Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador are the main production countries and account for 94% of the total worldwide harvest, or 148'720 tons of quinoa. Development projects support farmers who grow quinoa in Peru and Bolivia.1 Farmers in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador harvest half a ton of quinoa on one hectare of land. In comparison, wheat yields up to 12 tons per hectare.15
In Central Europe, quinoa is harvested with combines. According to Wikipedia, quinoa can produce an average yield of four tons per hectare. As quinoa has a large fruiting head (infructescence), the seeds do not mature at the same time. This is why it is essential to dry quinoa after harvesting.10
Quinoa has been grown in countries outside South America since the 1980s. There are now several farms in Germany (Northern Germany), Austria (West Styria), and Switzerland that grow quinoa for regional distribution. European quinoa is still considered a niche product, but cultivation and marketing are well supported by university research, networks, and cooperatives.
Plant scientists at the University of Hohenheim (Stuttgart) have successfully cultivated quinoa varieties that are adapted to the Central European climate. According to these Hohenheim researchers, warmer regions in central Europe are ideal. In Germany, for example, the Rhine Valley and the Danube were deemed particularly suitable. In Switzerland, the cooperative Biofarm is involved in a project supported by Bio Suisse (the main organization for organic agriculture in Switzerland). In the Netherlands, there is a network of 40 contract farmers (Dutch Quinoa Group) working closely with universities. At the same time, quinoa farmers from all over Europe have joined forces to form the European Quinoa Group.16
Quinoa inflorescences are self-pollinating as they contain both “perfect flowers” and female flowers. In most cases, self-fertilization occurs by wind, without the help of bees. On fields for research related to harvesting energy from plants in Straubing, Germany, observers noticed that bees were strongly drawn to the quinoa plants there. However, the benefits of quinoa plants for insects has been little investigated.17
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is in the goosefoot genus and the amaranth (Amaranthaceae) botanical family. The name quinoa comes from the word kinwa, a word in the indigenous Quechua language.10 Quinoa is called a pseudograin as it has a similar overall nutrient composition to grains. From a botanical perspective, however, unlike grains quinoa is a dicotyledonous plant not a monocotyledonous plant.
Apart from quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) in the amaranth family, buckwheat in the buckwheat family (Fagopyrum esculentum), and amaranth grain in the amaranth family (Amaranthus) are also rich in nutrients. Foxtail amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus), also known as love-lies-bleeding, velvet flower, tassel flower, and kiwicha in the Andes region, is also a pseudograin eaten for its nutritional value. Red amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) and Prince’s feather (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) are further edible and nutritious pseudograins.18Cañihua or Kaniwa (Chenopodium pallidicaule) is also a species of goosefoot closely related to quinoa. Chia (Salvia hispanica) of the lamisceae (sage) family is also known as a pseudocereal.
The gluten-free, raw vegan Erb Muesli not only contains pseudograins, it also contains sesame seeds, hulled golden millet (whole millet contains high levels of prussic acid), and flaxseed. You can also try the version Erb Muesli with Rolled Oats!
Quinoa is also known as kinoa, sweet quinoa, Peruvian rice, and Inca rice.