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The International Year of Quinoa

By Diana Wind (windJanuary 11, 2013
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The General Assembly of the United Nations has declared 2013 as The International Year of Quinoa! Learn more about Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) - a natural food high in nutritional value with a unique botanical classification. Quinoa seeds are now available from garden seed suppliers too - you may want to grow it in your garden!

Gardening picture

The United Nations focus on Quinoa will help heighten public awareness of the nutritional, economic, cultural and environmental aspects of quinoa. My family has been aware and cooking quinoa for many years, but many are still discovering this light and versatile whole grain. Quinoa is such an exceptional source of affordable protein that The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations celebrates quinoa as a high quality food for health and food security to fight poverty, world hunger and malnutrition.

What I like best about quinoa is that it is easy to cook and tastes great as a stand-alone entrée, salad, or as a nutritious side dish. You can eat it hot or cold. Quinoa tastes best when combined with other ingredients. We like quinoa pilaf with veggies, herbs, dried fruits and toasted nuts, or quinoa-bean burgers or patties. 

Quinoa can be cooked like rice: 2 cups water to 1 cup quinoa. Bring to boil, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed. Quinoa cooks faster than rice and will be light and fluffy after about 15 minutes.

Gluten-free

Quinoa has a bonus of being gluten-free for those looking for gluten-free alternative grains. The possibilities for quinoa recipes are endless. Quinoa comes in various types: plain, red, black, and even as flakes or ground flour for use in cereals, pancakes or baked goods. 

Quality Protein

Animal-based foods (meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs and cheese) are known for being complete protein sources. For a plant food to make a complete protein food, it usually needs to be eaten in combination with legumes. Quinoa is one of the few plant protein source considered a complete protein by itself. Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids the body needs.

QuiChenopodium atrovirens Rydb. - pinyon goosefootnoa provides lysine, which is not usually found in grains, making Quinoa a complete protein with all the essential amino acids - an excellent plant source of protein. 

We can thank the indigenous people of the Andes for protecting and preserving the biodiversity of quinoa. This ancient grain grows best in cool, mountainous regions and has long been a staple food cultivated by Incan tribes in the Andes Mountains of South America. The majority of world commodity quinoa imports come from farms in Peru and Bolivia.

Is Quinoa a Grain or Seed?

According to the Whole Grains Council, flax, chia and sunflower seeds are indeed seeds and not considered whole grains. They define whole grains as being foods that contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. Did they say grain-seed?

So, what makes up a grain-seed, i.e. whole grain? 100% of the original kernel with all of the bran, germ, and endosperm must be present to qualify as a whole grain. The Food and Drug Administration's lists amaranth, quinoa and teff as examples of cereal grains in their guidance for Whole Grain Label Statements. So is quinoa a grain?

Unique Botanical Class

The Whole Grains Council states on their website that Quinoa, Amaranth and Buckwheat are not really grains, but are "pseudo-grains" and not normally included in their definition of cereal grains, because of their nutritional profile, preparation, and similar use.

More familiar grains include: wheat (Triticum spp.), pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), sorghum (S. bicolor), oats (Avena sativa), Job's Tears, barley (Hordeum vulgare) and rice (Oryza sativa). These are all members of the Poaceae grass family, which contains over 300 genera.

Unlike most grains that are classified in the Poaceae grass family, Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) - mother of all grains - is classified in the Chenopodiaceae family, also called goosefoots. Other unique grains include Buckwheat and Amaranth.

Does Quinoa need rinsing before cooking?

When I had my health food store, we were often asked, "Do I need to rinse quinoa before cooking?" All quinoa grains have a natural, bitter saponin in their outer shell to protect them from being eaten by birds. Inca Organics, a fair trade company selling quinoa, answers this question on their website: "When quinoa was first imported to this country from South America in the 1980s, the saponin was not cleaned off well, and it was important to wash it (the quinoa) before cooking." They go on to say that, today, quinoa is thoroughly prewashed so consumersQuinoa growing in CA home garden do not really need to rinse it.

Quinoa Nutrition

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most people eat less than 1 ounce-equivalent of whole grains per day, consuming less than the minimum recommended amount of whole grains, which for many is about 3 ounce-equivalents per day. Whole grains are nutrient dense and have health benefits of reducing the risks of heart disease, certain types of cancer and type 2 diabetes, plus help in weight management.

  • Quinoa is low in fat and is an excellent source of dietary fiber, folate and magnesium, and a good source of protein, iron, zinc, thiamin, riboflavin and vitamin B6. Quinoa provides many other nutrients too, including antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin E.

Quinoa Nutrition Data based on the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Cooked Quinoa (in water) 1 cup (185 grams): 8 grams Protein (16% DV); 222 calories; total fat 3.5g (5.5% DV); carbohydrate 39g (13% DV); dietary fiber 5g (21% DV); iron 3mg (15% DV); magnesium 118 mg (30% DV); potassium 318mg (9% DV); zinc 2mg (13% DV); thiamin 0.198mg (13% DV); riboflavin 0.204mg (12% DV); vitamin B6 0.228mg (11% DV); folate 78mcg (20% DV).

Grow Quinoa

Give Quinoa a try in your garden! It's drought tolerant and like the many varieties of amaranth, quinoa can add interest and vibrant, rich colors to your garden beds and landscape. Quinoa seeds can be searched online for sale or trade on Dave's Gardens by suppliers or members, or from garden seed suppliers such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Botanical Interests, Territorial Seed Company, and Sustainable Seed Company. I can't wait to try growing Quinoa Cherry Vanilla. Let us know what you have or plan to grow.

Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year and Gardening Season!


Quinoa Nutrition Data calcInternational Year of Quinuaulated by Diana Wind, RD. Percent Daily Values (%DV) are based on a caloric intake of 2,000 calories for adults and children age 4 or older. Photo Credits: pilaf thumbnail copyright ©2012 Wind. Chenopodium atrovirens Rydb. - pinyon goosefoot photo used with permission USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database Copyright ©Al Schneider, www.swcoloradowildflowers.com. Colorful Quinoa photo courtesy of Dave's Garden member sketchkat06. Thank you Al and Mary!

Related Dave's Garden Article

Chenopodium quinoa--ancient food of Incan civilization is packed with protein and a delicious, modern choice by Carrie Lamont

Related Links

International Year of Quinoa, 2013 United Nations

Quinua, A Future Sown Thousands of Years Ago

Whole Grains A to Z

Growing and Harvesting Quinoa and Amaranth Seeds of Change by Lynda Prim

Eden® Quinoa Recipes

Cultivating Lives Harvest of Hope

The Mother Grain documentary in progress on Quinoa cultivation in Bolivia


  About Diana Wind  
Diana WindDiana is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a passion for gardening and sustainable foods. She is a graduate of the Academy of Culinary Arts and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Food from the garden fuels her enthusiasm for eating right and nutritional science. She especially loves gardening as part of a healthy lifestyle. Gardening engages us with nature, gives us health benefits from exercise, and rewards us with fresh, nutritious foods. To assess your food and garden activity level, visit choosemyplate.gov or her blog. You can also follow Diana on Google.

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Discussion about this article:
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4 to 6 feet high Liquidambar2 11 45 Aug 29, 2013 7:35 AM
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