Quinoa has claimed a new place in the nutrition world's spotlight in the past decade, but this whole grain (which is technically a seed) is actually not new at all. In fact, quinoa has been cultivated for about 5,000 years and is native to South America.
The earliest growers and harvesters of quinoa were certainly onto something back then, as this powerhouse seed is packed with nutrients, easy to prepare and versatile in the kitchen. With the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommending that Americans make half of our grains whole grains—that equates to three to five or more servings of whole grains per day—jumping on the quinoa bandwagon is a fantastic way to reach this goal.
Try These Recipes: Healthy Quinoa Recipes
Recipe to try: Chicken Quinoa Fried Rice
One cup of cooked quinoa has 5 grams of fiber.
What makes quinoa so healthy? Whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, farro, buckwheat and more, contain all three parts of the original grain—the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Refined grains, on the other hand, are stripped of the fiber- and nutrient-rich bran and germ and are only left with the endosperm, the starchy part of the grain. Refined grains deliver all the starches and carbs without any of the nutritional heft of the whole varieties.
Whole grains also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, plus antioxidants, and are believed to promote heart and digestive health.
One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein.
Quinoa is unique among whole grains because it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein (something most plant-based proteins aren't) and a particularly excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans who are not obtaining amino acids from meat.
In addition to protein and fiber, quinoa is rich in magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, iron, thiamine and folate. And as an added bonus for those with celiac disease or any gluten sensitivity, quinoa is gluten-free.
Recipe to try: Mediterranean Chickpea Quinoa Bowls
Unlike many other whole grains that can take 30 minutes or more to prepare, quinoa is relatively quick-cooking. It only requires about 15 minutes of simmering in boiling water, making it a great choice for busy weeknights.
Before you boil the quinoa, however, you'll want to make sure to rinse it in a fine-mesh strainer under running cool water to remove the bitter outer coating (saponin). You can also look for prewashed varieties when you're shopping.
Quinoa is available in several different colors (red, purple, black, white and yellow), most of which can be used interchangeably and may make the grain more appealing for kids.
The ratio of water to seeds is easy to remember: Use two parts liquid to one part quinoa. Just 1 cup of dry quinoa ultimately yields 3 cups of cooked quinoa.
Keep Reading: How to Cook Quinoa
Recipe to try: Almond Butter-Quinoa Blondies
In addition to being easy to prepare, we love quinoa because its kitchen versatility makes the possibilities seem endless. Next time you're making a stir-fry, try swapping your usual white rice for quinoa. It takes less time to cook, provides a pleasantly nutty texture and bite, and can even be cooked in a rice cooker.
If you're bored of your traditional oatmeal breakfast and want to switch things up, quinoa makes a great hot breakfast cereal alternative that will keep you full all morning long. You can also use quinoa in place of rice in sushi and in place of pasta in pasta salads or soups. For a hearty lunch, toss your salad greens with cooked quinoa to add extra texture and plant-based protein for a more substantial, filling meal. Quinoa is as versatile as you are creative in the kitchen, so don't be afraid to experiment for a healthy twist on tasty favorites.