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A plant bearing seeds, which are not a true grain, but are used as one. Quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) is of the same botanical family as beets and produces clusters that contain thousands of tiny bead-shaped seeds that range in color from light beige to yellow to almost black. The plant can grow well in poor soil conditions, and favors cool climates and high altitudes, such as the Andes Mountains of South America. It was the most important grain for the Incan civilization. Much of the quinoa used in the United States is imported from South America. A small quantity of quinoa is cultivated on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

When cooked in water, the seeds increase in size significantly, swelling three or four-fold. The cooked seeds become tender, with a springy texture. Uncooked seeds have a crunchy texture and a flavor that may range from mild to slightly bitter. Quinoa will not overpower other ingredients as it complements rice, couscous, beans, stews, and other similar dishes.

A powdery resin known as saponin covers quinoa seeds, which must be rinsed off before the seeds are used. If the seeds are not rinsed properly, the resin will produce a bitter flavor that can be very unpleasant. Quinoa sold in the United States (including imported quinoa) is washed well when it is processed, so the saponin is not an issue, but it is typically best to briefly rinse the seeds before cooking.

Nutritionally, quinoa is an excellent grain. It is loaded with protein and the amino acid lysine. Quinoa is also very high in iron and is an important source of calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.

Quinoa will keep for long periods (over a year) if it is stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry location away from sunlight. Among the other products made from quinoa are flour, commercially prepared cereals, and a variety of pastas. Quinoa is available in many specialty and health food stores as well as in well-stocked food stores.

USDA Nutrition Facts

Serving Size1 cup
Total Fat1g
Total Carbohydrates21g
Dietary Fiber2g
Serving Size1 cup
Total Fat6g
Total Carbohydrates64g
Dietary Fiber7g

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