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All about “Quinoa”

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What is quinoa?

Unlike rice and wheat,  quinoa  is not a grass. It is a “pseudo-cereal” like buckwheat . Quinoa  is the fruit of a plant in the same family as spinach and beets. The quinoa wins cooked more, it shines in your salads and if you want to eat gluten free, this is the perfect food. On the nutritional side, it contains a large amount of high quality protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids and many micronutrients . Thanks to its nutritional composition, which is somewhat different from that of other cereals, and its unique taste, its inclusion in the diet allows to bring variety to the menu.

Quinoa: understand everything in 2 minutes

Common names: quinoa, quinoa anserine, rice from Peru, small rice from Peru.
Scientific name: Chenopodium quinoa.
Family: chenopodiaceae.

Cooking quinoa: its health benefits

Quinoa, an antioxidant source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Grain products are of great importance for our diet. One of Health Canada’s dietary recommendations for the health of Canadians advises to give “the greater part to grains, breads and other grain products as well as vegetables and fruits” 1 . The Canada Food Guide to Healthy Eating recognizes this recommendation and emphasizes the choice of grain products whole grain or enriched 2 . The American authorities, for their part, recommend that at least half of the cereal products consumed be whole grain 3 .

These recommendations are based on the results of certain epidemiological studies which indicate that the consumption of whole grains is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes 4 , certain cancers , 6 and obesity , 8 . These beneficial effects are thought to be linked to the synergy between the many compounds contained in whole grain cereal products, such as fibers, antioxidants , vitamins and minerals. As the majority of these compounds are contained in the bran and the germ 9 , it is advantageous to consume the least refined cereals possible.

Quinoa, ideal for preventing cardiovascular disease and diabetes

A 125 ml serving of quinoa contains an amount of fiber that is close to that of a slice of whole wheat bread or that of 125 ml of cooked brown rice.

The types of fiber found in quinoa flour may improve the digestibility and absorption of this “pseudo-grain” in the large intestine 10 , 11 . In general, a diet rich in soluble fiber may help in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes by normalizing blood levels of cholesterol, glucose and insulin 12 . Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, would help maintain adequate bowel function. A diet rich in fiber is also associated with a lower risk of colon cancer 12 . Finally, even if they do not contain calories, a high total fiber intake would bring a greater feeling of satiety.12 .

By its composition, quinoa has a moderate glycemic index which makes it a preferred grain for people with diabetes.

The qualities of quinoa for vegetarians:

Quinoa is endowed with various nutritional characteristics that are preferred by vegetarians. Among these are iron, zinc and vitamin B2. In addition, quinoa is rich in high quality vegetable protein (15%). Its protein content is higher and its amino acid composition is more balanced than that of other common grains 10 .

Quinoa, a gluten-free source of protein

Quinoa contains around 15% protein, and its amino acid composition is better balanced than that of most other grains, such as millet, sorghum, rice, wheat, and corn 10 , 13-15 .

Protein is primarily used to build, repair, and maintain tissues, such as skin, muscles and bones. They are also used for the formation of digestive enzymes as well as hormones. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has observed that the proteins in quinoa, with or without saponins 16 (see below for the definition of saponins), would be equivalent, in terms of quality, to those contained in whole milk powder 14 , 17 .

However, this does not mean that quinoa can replace milk and dairy products in a balanced diet. Quinoa and milk come from two different food groups, each providing essential nutrients to the body.

Quinoa is rich in essential amino acids . An amino acid is said to be essential when the body cannot manufacture it on its own and must be supplied through food. Quinoa is high in lysine, an amino acid often missing in grain products like wheat and corn. Quinoa also has a good content of methionine , cystine , arginine, histidine and isoleucine , which would make it a perfect supplement for legumes, which have a low proportion of some of these essential amino acids 15 , 17,18 .

Quinoa has a low percentage of prolamins (a kind of protein), which indicates that it is gluten-free and therefore of interest to people who suffer from gluten intolerance, which is called  celiac disease 15 .

Learn more about celiac disease   : 

Celiac disease  affects about 4 in 1,000 people in North America. People with this disease suffer from a lifelong intolerance to gluten , a protein found in the grains of many grains. This protein is toxic to people with celiac disease, and its consumption can lead to intestinal symptoms, such as malabsorption of several nutrients. The treatment for this disease consists of completely excluding gluten from the diet. Since quinoa does not contain any, it would be an interesting food for people with gluten intolerance. However, special care must be taken, as quinoa can be  contaminated. by cereals containing gluten, in the fields, during transport, handling of grains or at the time of milling. It is therefore important to choose flours and food products  certified gluten-free , these products being the safest. Unfortunately, not all gluten-free foods have this symbol, which is why it is important to be able to read labels well to identify potential sources of gluten.

In a satiety study, consuming quinoa before a meal did not produce a more satiating effect than consuming a similar amount of rice, despite having higher protein (as well as fiber) content. 19 . Some macronutrients whose protein has a greater satiating effect than others 20-23 . Quinoa, given its high protein content, could therefore potentially have an effect on satiety and therefore on food intake compared to other cereals. This hypothesis merits further study.

Quinoa, a powerful antioxidant

Antioxidants are compounds that can delay or inhibit the oxidation of lipids or other molecules and thus reduce damage caused by free radicals. A recent study has shown that pseudo-grains like quinoa have high antioxidant activity 29 . In addition, quinoa would also contain isoflavones, including daidzein and genistein 30 . Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, molecules of plant origin that work in the body much like estrogens naturally produced by the body.

Estrogens have a role in regulating the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and breastfeeding, in addition to helping prevent bone demineralization and maintain healthy blood vessels. One then wonders if phytoestrogens can mimic the effect of estrogens. The effects are promising but other studies remain to confirm these hypotheses.

The most important nutrients in quinoa

See the meaning of the nutrient source classification symbols

 Manganese . Quinoa is an excellent source of manganese for women and a good source for men , as their needs are different. Manganese acts as a cofactor of several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also participates in the prevention of damage caused by free radicals .

 Iron . Quinoa is a good source of iron for men and a source for women, as their needs are different. Each body cell contains iron. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen and the formation of red blood cells in the blood. It also plays a role in the manufacture of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses).

 Copper . Quinoa is a good source of copper. As a component of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (a protein used for the structure and repair of tissues) in the body. Several copper-containing enzymes also help in the body’s defense against free radicals.

 Phosphorus . Quinoa is a source of phosphorus (see our Phosphorus Nutrient List ). The second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium, phosphorus plays an essential role in building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. In addition, it participates among other things in the growth and regeneration of tissues and helps maintain normal blood pH . Finally, phosphorus is one of the constituents of cell membranes. Magnesium . Quinoa is a source of magnesium. Magnesium is involved in bone development, protein building, enzymatic actions, muscle contraction, dental health and the functioning of the immune system. It also plays a role in the metabolism of energy and in the transmission of nerve impulses.

 Zinc . Quinoa is a source of zinc. Zinc is involved in particular in immune reactions, in the production of genetic material, in the perception of taste, in the healing of wounds and in the development of the fetus. It also interacts with sex and thyroid hormones. In the pancreas, it participates in the synthesis (manufacture), storage and release of insulin.

 Vitamin B2 . Quinoa is a source of vitamin B2. This vitamin is also known as riboflavin. Like vitamin B1, it plays a role in the energy metabolism of all cells. In addition, it helps in the growth and repair of tissues, the production of hormones and the formation of red blood cells.

What a 20g serving of quinoa contains:

Weight / volume Raw quinoa, 20 g (makes approximately ½ cup (125 mL) cooked quinoa)
Calories 75
Protein 2.6 g
Carbohydrates 13.8 g
Lipids 1.2 g
Dietary fiber 1.4 g

Source  : Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File , 2005.

Before cooking the quinoa: wash it well to remove all traces of saponins

Saponins are plant substances produced mainly in plants. They are considered to be anti-nutritional factors, that is, substances that interfere with the absorption and use by the body of important nutrients, such as iron 16 , 24 . It is for this reason that they must be eliminated before consumption 25 .

The quinoa present in our supermarkets contains very few saponins since it has been washed out of them. It is still advisable to rinse it well until the water no longer foams to remove any residual traces of saponin and prevent the bitter taste persisting after cooking.

The presence of saponins and other so-called anti-nutritional substances such as tannins, phytic acid and protease inhibitors do not only have harmful effects. Studies indicate beneficial effects of different saponins on health (antiallergic, anti-inflammatory, cancer prevention, cholesterol lowering …) 25-27 . However, since most of these studies are done in animals, further studies in humans are needed.

Saponins are also of pharmacological interest, as they could modify the permeability of the small intestine and thus aid the absorption of specific drugs 15 , 24 . The saponins in quinoa would not have a negative effect on the nutritional quality of the proteins in quinoa 14 . The results of a study demonstrate that the amino acid profile of quinoa was very similar before and after washing, which could mean that the process of removing saponins does not change the amino acid composition of quinoa seeds. To extract saponins from quinoa, the grains must first be polished by rubbing and then washed with water 16 .

Quinoa, a grain rich in oil

When compared to other grains, quinoa has a relatively high oil content, which is another of its important nutritional characteristics. Its oil content represents an average of 5.8% of its natural mass 15 . The essential fatty acids (linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid) 55% to 63% of the lipids present in the oil. Despite the high levels of these essential fatty acids, which cause oxidation, the oil extracted from quinoa is relatively stable due to its high level of vitamin E 15 , 28 .

Quinoa, rich in iron and excellent against anemia

Quinoa is a food rich in non-heme iron (plant iron) (1.85 mg of iron for 20 g of quinoa). It is therefore a good way to include more iron in the diet, especially for people with anemia .

It should be noted that the iron contained in foods of plant origin (such as quinoa) is less well absorbed by the body, compared to the iron contained in foods of animal origin. In addition, for better absorption of non-heme iron, it is preferable to consume either at the same meal or an hour before or after the meal, foods containing vitamin C (for example citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwis, peppers, cabbage).

Quinoa, gluten-free

Celiac disease affects about 4 in 1,000 people in North America. People with this disease suffer from a lifelong intolerance to gluten , a protein found in the grains of many grains. This protein is toxic to people with celiac disease, and its consumption can lead to intestinal symptoms, such as malabsorption of several nutrients. The treatment for this disease consists of completely excluding gluten from the diet. Since quinoa does not contain any, it would be an interesting food for people with gluten intolerance. However, special care must be taken, as quinoa can be cereals containing gluten, in the fields, during transport, handling of grains or at the time of milling. It is therefore important to choose flours and food products certified gluten-free , these products being the safest. Unfortunately, not all gluten-free foods have this symbol, which is why it is important to be able to read labels well to identify potential sources of gluten.

How to cook quinoa? Recipe ideas with quinoa

Quinoa recipe

Choosing the right quinoa seeds

You can find quinoa grains, flour (raw or roasted), flakes and various baking preparations on the market. Quinoa pasta usually contains other grains, such as wheat and corn.

Prepare and cook the quinoa well

The grains sold in North America and Europe are generally free of saponins in the bark, but it is important to rinse them all the same with plenty of water to remove any residue of these substances, at the risk that they give a bitter taste to the dish. Rinse until the water is clear.

Cooking:  two parts water or broth for one part quinoa. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the kernel is translucent and the white germ forms a visible spiral on the outside of the kernel. The grains can be dry roasted in a pan before cooking in water, which will bring out their flavor.

Examples of the use of quinoa in cooking

Quinoa can replace other grains in virtually any recipe, for example bulgur in tabbouleh salad, wheat semolina in couscous, or rice in risotto. Here are some other suggestions.

  • Add it to  soups , for example, this mushroom soup: brown slices of button mushrooms and shiitakes and set them aside. Sauté onions and celery, add quinoa and cook for two minutes. Add diced potatoes and carrot rings, broth, salt, pepper, thyme, and cook until the potatoes are tender. Add the mushrooms and garnish with parsley.
  • Incorporate it into soufflés, omelets, quiches.
  • Stuffed tomatoes:  mix cooked quinoa, dried fruit soaked in water for one hour, fresh grapes split in half, chopped almonds, green onion, spices (cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper, ground coriander seeds, powdered ginger) . Cool for a few hours, then stuff the tomatoes with this mixture.
  • Pilaf:  sauté onions, red, green and yellow peppers, celery, carrots and garlic; add quinoa, sauté for a few minutes, then add water or broth. Garnish with slivered almonds and oregano.
  • Stuff a  poultry  with a mixture of cooked quinoa, dry roasted nuts, onion, garlic, mushrooms and celery seared in olive oil, seasoned with sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley. To vary, add half quinoa, half wild rice.
  • Oriental Quinoa Pasta Salad:  Cook pasta according to directions and cool under running water. Dry roast the sesame seeds; blanch snow peas and cool them under running water; brown chicken pieces in oil until cooked through. Mix all these ingredients with the pasta, slivered almonds, chopped garlic and ginger, chopped spring onion and an olive oil-based vinaigrette with a little sesame oil, lemon juice. lemon, soy sauce, honey and hot pepper.
  • Quinoa burgers:  bind the cooked grains with an egg and bread crumbs, add chopped carrots, onion, celery and garlic, form pancakes and cook in a pan. Serve with a tomato or pepper coulis, or a yogurt, garlic and parsley sauce.
  • Prepare a  meatless chili  with quinoa, kidney beans, tomatoes, chili powder and minced vegetables (carrots, onion, celery).
  • Native American salad:  quinoa, sweet corn kernels, green peas, tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, chopped cilantro.
  • Indian quinoa:  fry shallots and fresh ginger in olive oil. Add the quinoa along with ground spices (cardamom, cumin, Cayenne, coriander), water or broth, and cook for ten or fifteen minutes. Dry toast pine nuts in a pan and add them, along with raisins, to the cooked quinoa.
  • It can be made into a  sweet pudding , according to the principle of rice or bread pudding.
  • The  leaves  of quinoa can be cooked like spinach.
  • Quinoa grains can be  sprouted . They can then be used like alfalfa sprouts.
  • Quinoa is used to make an  alcoholic beverage  called “chicha” in South America.

A little history of quinoa

The term ”  quinoa  ” comes from Quechua, a language spoken by the Incas. It appeared in French in 1837 through Spanish.
Gender issue
In France, the term “quinoa” is often used in the feminine, while in Quebec, it is always masculine.

It is believed that the domestication of quinoa took place at the same time as that of the llama, 6,000 to 7,000 years ago in the Andes of South America, the plant and the animal living in mutual dependence since time immemorial. All the more so since quinoa was, and still is, one of the rare plants able to survive in the inhospitable environment of the Andean Altiplano, where the guanaco, ancestor of the lama, lived. Enriched by animal manure, the soil of the primitive enclosures built by the first pastoralists and farmers provided an ideal medium for the germination of quinoa seeds which had escaped the process of digestion. Under these conditions, the plant grew rapidly and was expected to give excellent yields, which certainly did not escape humans in search of grain for sustenance.

Sacred plant of the Incas, which they called chisiya mama, literally “mother seed”, quinoa has largely contributed to the expansion of this great civilization. However, the Spaniards will regard the native grain with contempt and will forbid its cultivation in favor of that of wheat and barley. So much so that during the following four centuries, it will perish, persisting only in uncultivated places and far from the decision-making centers of the Spanish administration. Even today, it is the main source of protein for the majority of the population in the South Altiplano of Bolivia. Indeed, of the 25,000 families who live there, it is estimated that nearly 20,000 depend entirely on it for their subsistence, to the exclusion of any other type of crop or livestock.

In the 1970s, Westerners became aware of the need to change their eating habits and discovered the precious grain of the Incas, whose protein content and, above all, the quality of the latter, surpassed those of conventional cereals. So much so that its consumption is gradually increasing in Europe and North America, while in South America, apart from a few remote regions, the opposite phenomenon is observed.

Many factors are cited to explain this situation, including the fact that it is cheaper to import wheat from the United States and Canada than to produce quinoa locally, and that the latter still suffers from a problem. image. Indeed, despite its nutritional richness, it remains, in the minds of consumers, a grain of third order. Hence the recent decision of the governments of Bolivia and Peru to subsidize food aid programs in which it occupies a greater place, and to promote it as an authentic local product among the middle class.

In both countries, flour, tortillas, flakes, pancake mixes and puffs are commercially produced. Impanable, its flour allows all the same to enrich the bread up to 30%, while it can enter 40% in the composition of pasta and 60% in that of cookies. We are also thinking of establishing it in African countries where malnutrition is chronic.

Quinoa is now cultivated in other countries, including the United States and Canada, and experiments are underway to cultivate it in Europe. However, some argue that Quinoa Real , which is produced in the harsh climate of the Bolivian Altiplano, is by far the best.


Store the grains in a cool, dry place protected from light, and the flour in the refrigerator or freezer.

Ecology and environment

Saponins for washing and for washing
The saponins present in the bark of quinoa act as a repellent against insects and birds. But they taste bitter. They are therefore eliminated after harvest. However, the process water which is loaded with these substances pollutes the environment, so much so that researchers are now looking into the means to take to recover them. We know, for example, that traditionally the Indians used the rinsing water from quinoa as shampoo.

Forty years ago, a group of people from Riobamba, a commercial town located in the heart of the mountains and high valleys of Ecuador, set up a community radio (ERPE or Escuelas Radiofonica Populares del Ecuador ) for educational purposes. and cultural. Lacking resources, its promoters decided to finance it by cultivating organic quinoa on a land of a few hectares. At that time, this grain had practically disappeared from the Ecuadorian landscape and had not been on the menu for a long time.

The hosts spoke of their experience on the air, and in no time were inundated with phone calls from listeners asking for information on organic quinoa cultivation. In the meantime, they promoted their product at trade fairs, arousing great interest abroad. From a simple community radio, the organization turned into a technical and agricultural consultancy company for farmers and set up one of the most important buying and selling networks in the country. From 1997 to 2002, the number of Ecuadorian families who cultivated quinoa for this network increased from 220 to 4000, while the harvest, initially of a few thousand kilos, reached 700 tonnes. Today,

In recognition of its efforts, the ERPE received, in 2000, the Slow Food prize for having re-established in Ecuador an indigenous culture which had disappeared and allowed the small farmers of the country to live there in respect of the environment.

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