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September 15, 2013

Quinoa: Gluten-Free Goodness

by Anne Paddock

Quinoa is a grain-like crop that is actually a seed making it immensely popular in gluten-free diets.  Highly cultivated by South Americans and particularly by those who live in the mountainous regions, quinoa is one of the few crops that thrives in high altitudes and in less than ideal farming conditions.

A possible reason for quinoa’s heartiness is the natural coating of saponin, a bitter coating that repels birds and animals from eating the grain. While most of the saponin is removed during processing, some may remain which is why quinoa should always be washed before cooking.

Quinoa is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron but its popularity is fueled by the grain’s protein composition: quinoa is a complete source of protein meaning it contains all the nine essential amino acids. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of dietary fiber, 3 grams of fat, and about 220 calories and is virtually sodium free and sugar-free. An ideal food for those following a gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan diet or for anyone looking to increase their intake of protein and fiber.

canstockphoto6572000Used in cooking like a whole grain, quinoa comes in a variety of colors:  white, yellow, red, or black – and has an earthy flavor and soft texture when cooked making it a perfect addition to salads, soups, or pilaf. Quinoa is also quick cooking with most varieties taking 12-15 minutes on the stove.  Use in place of rice or couscous. Add vegetables, beans and fresh herbs to make a delicious meal.

One of my favorite quinoa recipes is Quinoa, Black Bean and Avocado Salad, an easy and flavorful dish. For the recipe, click on the following link:  Quinoa, Black Bean and Avocado Salad.  With so many options, is it any wonder that the United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as The International Year of Quinoa to recognize those who have cultivated it through the centuries and to also draw attention to the nutritional importance of quinoa.

PastaGroupAQuinoa can be purchased at nearly every supermarket and costs about $6-$7 a pound. Bob’s Red Mill sells 1.5 pound bags of organic quinoa for about $10 and can be purchased on-line directly from the company website or through www.vitacost.com. TruRoots also sells organic quinoa in 12 ounce packets on www.vitacost.com for about $4.50.

And, for those more interested in a gluten-free nutritious pasta, Ancient Harvest makes quinoa pasta – spaghetti, linguine, rotelle, hells, pagodas, penne, and vegetable curls – which are also sold for $2.50 – $3 per 8 ounce box on www.vitacost.com. And, finally quinoa flour which can be used to make pancakes, breads, cookies, and more can also be purchased on www.vitacost.com.

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