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Quinoa 101

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by Ellen Lawler (subscribe)
Food, fitness and health enthusiast. Aspiring writer and health practitioner.
Published June 4th 2013
Everything you need from why to why not
2013 has been announced as the International Year of Quinoa, and for good reason. This superfood has taken the Western world by storm so quickly that many have been left behind. Here's a run down on the most important things to know about this ancient grain to help you catch up to the pack.

Quinoa has been a staple in South America for millennia, but now it has exploded into our society through the foodie revolution. Nutritionists, the creative, the health-conscious, coeliac and the curious have globally embraced it as their own.

Pronounced keen-wa, it is commonly described as an ancient grain. Although grain-like, quinoa is in reality a seed, a species of goosefoot. It is often used as an alternative to maize, wheat or rice, found in salads, sushi and in place of porridge oats. Some have even gone so far as to create a cake or pudding based around it for the interesting texture.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert, there is a quinoa recipe for every occasion. For a food that has only recently been introduced into our culture, it is extraordinarily diverse.

If you're interested in attempting to grow it yourself, keep in mind that it's a cool weather crop so the peak of summer or depth of winter won't quite work for you.

Quinoa is so popular you don't even have to venture into a health food shop to find it; just the health food section of your supermarket. Woolworths alone offer red quinoa, quinoa flakes and premade quinoa-based meals.

If you're too afraid to cook it yourself don't worry, restaurants know what the people want. Any place that likes being trendy will have something, but here's a couple to get you started:
Café Domain (171 Domain Road, South Yarra; open 7am-9pm) offers a coconut and quinoa porridge with stewed cherries and rhubarb. While $12.50 might sound over-the-top for a bowl of porridge, it is a big enough serving to satisfy two.

Foxes Den (99 Bay Street, Port Melbourne; open 11am-9pm) have opened recently and sell a wide range of nutritionally balanced salads, some of which use quinoa and go wonderfully with their roasted chickens. Keep your wallet in mind here as it does swing towards the pricey end.

Health. Quinoa is one of the singularly most nutritionally balanced foods on our planet, without creating issues for gluten-free, lactose-free or vegan diets. It is high in protein at 9 grams per cup and contains all essential amino acids including those responsible for building body tissues (any vegetarian bodybuilders out there? Take note).

It is high in magnesium, which by relaxing blood vessels not only helps to prevent migraines but also reduce hypertension and ischemic heart disease.

The manganese, copper, zinc, folate and vitamin B found in quinoa helps to eliminate free radicals and toxins from your body, slowing the effects of aging and reducing your chances of cancer.

Finally, quinoa is good for your digestion as it has prebiotic properties, and is easily digested. It contains insoluble fiber to promote healthy elimination and reduce the formation of gallstones.

As much as we love the health benefits and diversity of quinoa, there is a downside. The increased demand for quinoa has led to an increase in prices (tripled since 2006). And while that may not be much cause for concern to us perhaps, it is for the people who have eaten it as a staple for years.

Quinoa used to be one of the few nutrient-rich foods that the poorer farmers of South America could afford, but now they have to resort to less nourishing alternatives.

In addition to this, farmers are now fighting over previously abandoned land and sacrificing traditional methods in favour of commercial options that provide a higher yield. Fields are not allowed to rest sufficiently, depleting soil nutrients, and the use of insecticides has increased. In short, it is environmentally damaging. Alternatives are being explored, such as financial incentives to grow environmentally friendly by the Bolivian government, but in the meantime it might be worth the effort to hunt out Kindred Organic's product (grown in Tassie).

The easiest and fastest way to cook it is to simmer it in two parts water to one part quinoa, like rice for about 10 minutes or until softened. After that toss it through salads, serve it in the place of couscous or make quinoa patties. If you need a recipe, try the one below for your own quinoa cake, or check out cooks and chefs like Jill Duplex and Yotam Ottolenghi, plus healthy blogs like Green Kitchen Stories.

Adapted from Dan Lepard's Quinoa Hazelnut Cake

cake, recipe, quinoa, chocolate
Cocoa and quinoa cake

150g quinoa
400mL water
4 eggs, separated
1 tsp baking powder
175g soft brown sugar
150g almond meal
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 ˝ tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
˝ tbsp cornflour, sifted
25g butter, melted
100g dark chocolate, grated

Line and grease a 20cm round springform cake tin.

Tip the quinoa on a baking tray and roast in a preheated 200C oven for 20 minutes until golden brown. When it is done, pour it into a saucepan with the water, bring it to the boil then leave over gentle heat with a tightly fitted lid on for 15 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. Spread it out on a plate or tray and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites with the baking powder until foamy, then add half the sugar and whisk to glossy, stiff peaks.
In another bowl, beat the yolks with the remaining sugar until thick and beige-coloured. Fold in the quinoa, almond meal, cinnamon, cocoa, and cornflour. Next fold in the egg whites, melted butter and chocolate.

Pour the mix into the tin and bake for 45 minutes at 180C, or until the centre of the cake is firm to touch. Serve with melted chocolate or a dollop and cream and coulis once it has cooled a little.
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Why? Because it's the Year of Quinoa
Your Comment
I first heard of quinoa on the recent Jamie Oliver cooking course we did. What a great way to get extra protein into your kids. Was really interested to read all your info - will now check out the recipes, thank you.
by Susan Jackson (score: 2|815) 2973 days ago
I'll definitely try that cake - there are also some great quinoa recipes over at!
by Lucy (score: 3|1157) 2972 days ago
what about its Glycemic Index.
by arund (score: 0|2) 2973 days ago
What about its Glycemic Index (GI)? Is it lower than 55 or not?
by arund (score: 0|2) 2973 days ago
Hi, the best thing you can do apart from buying the Tasmanian one and if you can't find it, is to buy the label Alter Eco. They're Fair Trade and you know you'll be helping out the Bolivian communities. Plus try their chocolate blocks, they're so delicious and they have the real deep chocolate flavour and not too much sugar. There is no dairy or soy lecithin. I promise I don't work for the company but, I always try to buy Fair Trade products or similar for the community support of third world countries - I don't feel guilty and it makes me feel good and it is a good deed. I don't buy quinoa if it's not Alter Eco, Fair Trade.
by cocog (score: 1|17) 2973 days ago
The GI of quinoa is 53.
by linda (score: 1|12) 2972 days ago
I discovered Quinoa after being diagnosed with Coeliac Disease. I like it. But so far have really only tried it in savoury dishes (basically just replacing rice).. I would love to try the cake recipe.
by Tracie Louise (score: 2|123) 2964 days ago
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