What is Quinoa and How Do I Use It?

in Celiac, The Celiac Expert

Q. I’ve heard that quinoa is a good gluten alternative. But what is it, and what kind of dishes would I use it in?

A. Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) was a staple of the Incas who called it “the mother grain”. It is not actually a grain but a seed from a broad-leafed plant that is closely related to the weed lamb’s quarters and to spinach. Numerous varieties are grown in South America, and more recently in North America as well.

The quinoa seed looks like a cross between millet and sesame seed and is protected by a bitter, resin-like substance called saponin, which should be rinsed off before cooking. Many companies now remove the saponin making it pan-ready, but quinoa is sold in several forms. (See below.)

It is a nutritious, gluten-free alternative that contains more high-quality protein than any other grain or cereal. In fact, its protein quality is comparable to that of dried skimmed milk. Quinoa is also high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc, and is a source of calcium, B vitamins and fiber.

Quinoa Seed

How to Use:
– side dish instead of potatoes or rice
– in salads or pilafs, stuffing, casseroles
– thickener for soups, stews and chili

Cooking Tips
– rinse quinoa in cold water, drain.
– In a saucepan with a tight lid, bring 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups liquid to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.
– let stand covered for 5 minutes.
Makes 3 cups.

Quinoa Flakes

How to Use:
– breakfast cereal
– substitute for up to 1/3 of the g-f flour in a cookie, muffin or bread recipe
– add to pancakes or waffles

Cooking Tips:
– add 1 1/3 cup flakes to 1 cup boiling water and boil 11/2 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
– remove from heat and cool. Then add chopped nuts, dried fruits and brown sugar.
– Or in microwave: high heat for 2 to 21/2 minutes.

Quinoa Flour

How to Use:
– in baked items such as breads, muffins, pancakes, cookies, biscuits

Cooking Tips:
– has a slightly nutty, strong flavour so best combined with other g-f flours. Use no more than 25 per cent quinoa flour in recipe

Quinoa Pasta*
*available as corn/quinoa or rice/quinoa

How to Use:
– as a side dish or in salads

Cooking Tips:
– Follow directions on package.
Cooking time varies.

Shelley Case, RD, is an international celiac nutrition expert, consulting dietitian and author of Gluten-Free: The Definitive Resource Guide. Learn more at ShelleyCase.com. Shelley Case is on the advisory boards of the Canadian Celiac Association, the Celiac Disease Foundation and the Gluten-Free Intolerance Group.  

Related: Quinoa Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette