What Is Quinoa & How Can You Use It in the Kitchen?

Quinoa is a useful foodstuff for vegetarians

What is quinoa and how is it cooked are just two of the questions that are often asked about this interesting and versatile food.

Quinoa is growing in popularity. At one time it was very much seen as a specialist food, today it is widely available and is used in an increasing number of recipes and dishes. Quinoa is very versatile and is used in both sweet and savory dishes. Being of vegetable origin, it is suitable for people who lead both a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle.

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa looks like a grain and is often regarded as a whole grain even though it is actually the seed of a plant that is related to spinach. The plant originates from the Andes. Although quinoa is a seed, it is often referred to as a grain and can be found stocked among the grains in health food shops and supermarkets.

The tiny seeds are cooked in water. This expands the seed and makes a soft textured substance that can be used as a replacement for oatmeal. Quinoa makes an interesting alternative to oat porridge as well as being a useful addition to other recipes that call for oats. Quinoa has a natural bitter coating and this needs to be rinsed or soaked off before cooking.

Quinoa is high in protein, low in fat and is a good source of other nutrients such as calcium. As quinoa is free from gluten, it makes an ideal alternative for people who eat a gluten free diet. Quinoa is naturally high in fiber and this is a useful addition to most diets.

Buying Quinoa

Quinoa is typically bought dry and ready packed into packets or bags in a similar way that rice is sold. Some health food stores will sell loose quinoa. Most health food stores will sell quinoa and it is also becoming increasingly more widely available from supermarkets. Quinoa expands when cooked and therefore a small bag can go a surprisingly long way.

It is also possible to buy quinoa online and many online health food stores and green living stores sell quinoa at competitive prices. When buying online, however, it is worth adding in the price of delivery as this can often make the prices seem less attractive.

Cooking Quinoa

Quinoa is quick and easy to cook. It is placed in cold water that is bought to the boil. The quinoa is then left to simmer for 15 minutes or until it is tender. The cooked quinoa can be eaten as it is with the addition of some honey or other sweetener for a healthy breakfast, or it can be added to vegetarian or vegan main dishes for texture. Quinoa works particularly well as an ingredient for vegan or vegetarian burgers.

Quinoa also works well when added to cakes and biscuits. It provides an interesting texture while also giving an easily digestible source of fiber and other nutrients. It is a healthy ingredient to add to soups and casseroles as it adds bulk without adding unwanted additives.

Quinoa is a useful addition to the store cupboard of vegetarians and vegans alike. Its nutritional content and ease of use make it a natural 'fast food' that is packed with goodness. The versatile nature of quinoa means that it can be created into dishes to suit all tastes and this alone makes it a great choice for someone looking to try something new. See How to Cook Quinoa for more information about cooking this versatile ingredient and Cooking Quinoa for ideas for savory and sweet dishes.

So next time you wonder 'what is quinoa', why not by a bag and give it a try!

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What Is Quinoa & How Can You Use It in the Kitchen?