Commonly considered a grain, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is actually related to leafy green vegetables such as spinach, chard and beets.  Once considered the “mother seed” of the Incas, this South American native is a nutritional powerhouse and its wide array of potential culinary uses makes it one of the most practical foods to store in your pantry.

Quinoa supplies all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.  These are not easy to find in the plant world, making quinoa an excellent option for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone interested in adding non-meat proteins to their diet.  In addition to being a protein, quinoa is an excellent source for manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus and fiber.  Quinoa is also naturally gluten-free, making it a great food for many who follow a gluten-free diet. 

Quinoa can be prepared as simply as couscous – add it to boiling water or broth and let it sit for several minutes, and then fluff with a fork.  That preparation will give you quinoa in its simplest presentation.  This versatile seed can also be served as a breakfast “cereal” – simply add your favorite natural sweetener, along with some cinnamon and berries or chopped apples.  It can be added to burritos, salads, a veggie burger or scrambled eggs.  It can be sautéed with vegetables or given some kick with Moroccan spices and raisins.  Truly, the options are endless and recipes are easy to find.

Before cooking quinoa, be sure to rinse it thoroughly to remove any residual resins that might still be on the seeds.  Otherwise, it can be quite bitter.

Quinoa is available in several colors, most notably red, black and more commonly, off-white.  It is available in many grocery stores, both packaged and in the bulk aisle.  If you cannot find it in your supermarket, it should definitely be at your local health food store.

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This story was written by Terri Hall-Jackson. It originally appeared on Care2.com and is used here with permission. Visit Care2.com to discover more than 5,000 ways to enhance your life — from holistic health and wellness to pets and family life, the experts at Care2.com share great tips for living a healthier, happier and more sustainable lifestyle.

Watch videos from MNN's Chef A and learn how to cook quinoa for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Quinoa nutrition facts