Learn Why Quinoa Is Worth the Hype and How to Make It Taste Good

Jennifer Geer

If you've had quinoa in the past and thought it tasteless, it's time you give it another chance.

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Some people say quinoa is bland. But that blandness means that it's versatile. It takes on the seasonings you add to it and can be used in a variety of dishes.

Nutritionists call it a "superfood" because it is packed full of fiber, protein, iron, and antioxidants.

History of Quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is an ancient grain dating back to the Incan civilizations in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. As a complete source of protein, it was a staple in their diet and considered a sacred crop.

During the Spanish conquest of South America, most quinoa fields were destroyed in the Spaniards attempt at annihilating everything from the Incan culture. Only a small amount of the crop survived high in the mountains.

But this changed with the revival of the grain in the 1970s. And more recently, quinoa became a fashionable food highly regarded by food snobs everywhere.

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But quinoa is such a healthy and versatile grain, it's made a break out of the "organic-only" section of the grocery store into many more people's shopping carts.

More and more people are discovering that in addition to the many health benefits of quinoa, it's also easy to cook with and tastes great.

What are the health benefits of quinoa?

Quinoa is prepared and eaten as a grain, but technically, it's a seed. It comes in three main types: white, black, and red.

One cup of cooked quinoa has the following nutritional value:

  • 222 calories
  • 39 grams of carbohydrates
  • 4 grams of fat
  • 9 grams of protein
  • 5 grams of fiber

One cup also contains the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of the following nutrients:

  • Manganese: 58%
  • Phosphorus: 28%
  • Folate: 19%
  • Copper: 18%
  • Iron: 15%
  • Zinc: 13%
  • Potassium: 9%

More than nutrients, quinoa is also full of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect against cell damage in our bodies and can reduce oxidative stress. The antioxidants in quinoa have shown to be anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is dangerous for us because it can trigger illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Eating a diet full of anti-inflammatory foods helps to fight off the negative effects of inflammation.

Studies have shown quinoa benefits heart health, metabolism, and our digestive system.

Low glycemic index

The glycemic index measures how quickly they cause your blood sugar to rise. Foods on the low side raise your glucose levels slow and steady. Higher foods cause your levels to spike and are associated with weight gain.

High glycemic index foods can make you hungrier after you eat them. Low glycemic foods satiate your hunger and help you eat fewer calories overall. Quinoa is a 53 on the index, which is considered low.

The benefits are plain to see. So why aren't we all eating more quinoa? One of the biggest issues may be a lack of knowledge on how to properly prepare it.

Cooking quinoa is easy, but there are some steps you need to follow to get it right.

How to cook quinoa

  1. Check your package to see if your quinoa needs rinsing. Most quinoa comes pre-rinsed. But if the instructions call for rinsing, don't skip it. The outer shell of quinoa is coated with a substance called saponin, and it's bitter-tasting.
  2. If you need to rinse it, measure your needed amount, and put it in a mesh sieve. Then, run cold water over it until the water runs clear. The seeds are tiny, so your sieve needs to be fine mesh.
  3. Measure your quinoa with one part quinoa to two parts water. (1 cup quinoa will need 2 cups water.)
  4. After rinsing your quinoa (if needed) place it with the water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  5. Cover the pot and decrease the heat to simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  6. After 15 minutes, remove from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes.
  7. Fluff gently with a fork.

If you're serving this as a side dish and not adding it to another recipe, you can add seasonings such as salt and pepper or a drizzle of olive oil. Serve alongside grilled fish or baked chicken as a replacement for rice.

Or you can use your cooked quinoa in another recipe. Here is one of my favorites.

Quinoa Mediterranean Salad Recipe

The Mediterranean diet was named the best diet for 2021 by U.S. News and World Report. Here is a healthy and delicious salad that gives you all the benefits of eating a Mediterranean-style meal.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1-1/2 cups water (in this salad, the texture of quinoa is better when it's slightly firm, which is why less water is called for)
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 3/4 cup sliced kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil (The amount is a personal preference. Use less if you're trying to reduce your calorie intake.)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice or red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Cook the quinoa as directed above using a ratio of 1:1-1/2 quinoa to water.

2. Let the quinoa cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

3. Add the cooled quinoa and all other ingredients to a large bowl.

4. Mix well and serve at room temperature or refrigerate.

Notes:

This is one of those versatile recipes where you can swap out ingredients. Use green, yellow, or orange bell peppers. Some other Mediterranean-style ideas include steamed asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, diced avocado, or roasted red peppers. Add dried red pepper flakes if you like a spicy kick.

This salad can be a side dish or a complete meal. Add shredded chicken or cooked shrimp to make your salad an entree. Or if you want to keep it vegetarian, you could add garbanzo beans (chickpeas) or roasted tofu squares.

I like to double this recipe when I make it and eat it cold for an easy lunch during the week.

Quinoa truly is a superfood

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This Mediterranean salad recipe gives you one idea of what to do with your quinoa. There are many other ideas, such as adding it to soups, make breakfast bowls sweetened with maple syrup, or mix it in a grilled vegetable salad. You can also make baked goods with quinoa flour or try a high-protein pasta made from quinoa.

Give it a try. Your health will thank you for it.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL
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