Keen on Quinoa? A New Superfood Spotlight Series

Banana mango quinoa
This morning’s breakfast was Banana Mango quinoa porridge. Red quinoa cooked in soy/coconut milk, sweetened with mashed banana and chopped mangoes, spiced with vanilla and cinnamon, topped with macadamia nut butter, crushed cashews and almonds, and a crumbled vanilla coconut snackaroon (Laughing Girafe). Tropical paradise in a bowl! I bought the mini Philippine mangoes from PasarBella market yesterday. These babies were smaller than the size of my palm and were so cute! It’s perfect for single serving (I hate having to leave cut fruits in the open).

I’d thought I take this opportunity to start a new weekly Superfood Spotlight series, to shed light on a particular food, fruit, or ingredient. Rather than just rambling on about nutritional profiles and gloat over the food’s nutritional quality (which can easily obtained on websites such as WHFoods), my aim is to provide an informed overview, and where possible, look at pre-clinical or clinical studies. I suppose my more scientific approach to this series stems from my background in Biomedical Sciences which emphasizes on critical analysis and appraisal of scientific articles. I hope this series will be enlightening to you as it is for me as I dig the literature.

For the inaugural superfood, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) takes the spotlight!

Quinoa red and white

This tiny, ancient Peruvian seed has been cultivated along the Andes for the last 7000 years, and was even conferred sacred status as “The Mother Grain” by the Incas. While quinoa is an ancient grain, it is only recently resurrected as a superfood due to its remarkably balanced nutritive profile, as well as its resistance to environmental stress. Quinoa (together with amaranth and buckwheat) are the seeds of broadleaf plants rather than grasses, which is it is considered a pseudo or false grain. Thus, quinoa is also particularly suited for those with gluten sensitivity or those looking to avoid gluten. Seeds color varies from white, yellow, red, purple to black depending upon the region and can be bitter, medium, and sweet on the bases of environment. The information below is mostly summarized from a review article by Antonio Vega-Gálvez et al. [1].

Protein
Do not belittle these innocuous-looking seeds for they pack a whooping 15% of protein far higher than in common cereals (eg ~7% in brown rice). Moreover, quinoa is further recognized as a complete food for it contains all eight essential amino acids, providing it with a similar value to casein, the protein of milk.

Carbohydrate
In quinoa this is mainly in the form of starch (60%), which powers the major source of energy in the human diet.

Lipids
Total lipid content in quinoa is about 14.5% (70% unsaturated), mostly being linoleic and oleic acids. Linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid and beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease and the regulation of insulin sensitivity.

Vitamins and Minerals
Quinoa is particularly high in calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc. However mineral concentrations have been found to vary dramatically, which may be due to the soil type and mineral composition of the region and/or fertilizer application. Vitamins of note include vitamins B and E. The latter is important as it acts as an antioxidant at the cell membrane level, protecting the fatty acids of the cell membranes against free radicals oxidation. Other compounds include polyphenols, phytosterols, and flavonoids with possible nutraceutical benefits.

The not-so-desirable side
For all the praises piled onto quinoa, it does have some undesirable qualities, including saponins, phytic acid, tannins, and protease inhibitors. Saponins are a class of glycosides and there appears to be good and bad ones. While some saponins can be toxic, others have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-angiogenic activities and are sometimes used as an adjunct to chemotherapy [2]. I wouldn’t worry too much about the saponins except that they do give a bitter taste. If you’re concerned, you can soak qunioa for a couple of hours and rinse properly before cooking.

Cooking
Qunioa is as versatile as rice but is much easier and quicker to cook. Simply boil in water for 15 min, (or stock), using one part quinoa to two parts water. You can tell that the quinoa is cooked once the white germ ring (curly thread-like spiral) has separated from the seed and the quinoa itself has become translucent. Let stand for additional 5 minutes, then fluff with fork and serve.

So far I have only tried red quinoa for aesthetic reasons: it’s deep red colour! It has a mild nutty flavour and slightly crunchy/chewy texture. I’ve tried it both sweet (eg. above) and savory styles, and it works well both ways. (In contrast, I can’t seem to get savoury-style oats right!)

References:

  1. Antonio Vega-Gálvez et al. (2010). Nutrition facts and functional potential of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.), an ancient Andean grain: a review. J Sci Food Agric 90, 2541-2547.

  2. Man S, et al. (2010). Chemical study and medical application of saponins as anti-cancer agents. Fitoterapia81,703-714.

Questions
Have you tried quinoa? Red, white or rainbow?
Favourite ways to enjoy quinoa? Sweet or savoury?

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