Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) has become massively popular world-wide, over the last twenty years. Many may think of it as a grain, but in fact it is not a grain (or a grass), but is botanically related to amaranth and spinach!
Quinoa was originally domesticated about four or five thousand years ago in the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia. There is evidence however, that it may have been used for livestock up to 7,000 years ago. The Incas called it chisaya mama, or ‘mother of all grains’, demonstrating the high esteem in which it was held.
Quinoa was sacred and was used in indigenous religious ceremonies. According to legend, the Incan emperor would ceremoniously plant the first quinoa seeds every season. Sadly, quinoa fell victim to the Spanish in their goal to eradicate all indigenous cultures, starting in the 1530’s. Fields were destroyed, and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead. Only tiny pockets of quinoa cultivation remained, hidden high in the mountains.
Fortunately, those tiny pockets of hidden quinoa were enough to keep the plant from going extinct, and in the 1970s it was finally reintroduced to the world.
There are many reasons to love quinoa and to incorporate it into our diets. Terrific as a breakfast cereal, a pasta substitute in salads, added to soups for heartiness, replacement for rice in stir-fry dishes and sushi, and…. Did you know it can even be popped like popcorn? While finding ways to enrich your mealtimes, know that you’re also enriching your nutritional intake:
- It’s gluten-free, making it a wonderful grain substitute in cereals and flour.
- Contains higher levels of lysine (beneficial to gut health, increases calcium absorption) than wheat
- Its amino acid content is considered to be well balanced for human consumption
- Both quality and quantity of protein in quinoa seed is superior to other cereal grains. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of complete protein (all nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot make on its own).
- Lower sodium content and higher levels of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and zinc than found in wheat, corn or barley
- Its glycemic index value is low enough to be considered a food that helps stabilize blood sugar levels. A study conducted on humans by researchers at the Department of Food Science and Microbiology at the University of Milan found that quinoa significantly reduces blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels. In a separate study done on rats, by the Department of Food chemistry and Nutrition in Krakow, Poland, it was found that among quinoa’s biochemical effects was the complete inhibition of negative effects of fructose.
- It has thousands of trace nutrients, including two well-studied flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, which are found in relatively large amounts. Studies have shown that these two flavonoids have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer and even anti-depressant effects on animals.
- NASA scientists have been evaluating quinoa as a suitable crop to be grown in outer space, due to its high nutrient content, ease of use and ease of growing!
Indeed, quinoa is well deserving of its ancient honorific of ‘mother of all grains’ (even though it’s not a grain). It certainly is a plant worthy of our respect, and more importantly, a prominent place in our pantries.
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Quinoa, from Alternative Field Crops Manual
Quinoa, from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Nutrition source
Quinoa Compounds slow Aging, Improve Metabolic Health In Animal Study
From North Carolina Research Campus
27 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Quinoa
Effect of Quinoa Seeds (Chenopodium quinoa) in Diet on some Biochemical Parameters and Essential Elements in Blood of High Fructose-Fed Rats https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2998641/
Quinoa Health Benefits
11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa