Quinoa, the mother crop

2013 is the year of quinoa as declared by the United Nations. Quinoa, quinuao kinwa (Chenopodiumquinoa) is a plant that belongs to the same family of beets and spinach. But, as the seed is edible and used the same way as cereals, quinoa is considered a pseudocereal like amaranth and buckwheat. As it is native from the Andean region of America, Quinoa was domesticated in the vicinities of Lake Titicaca in the Andes about 7,000 years ago, and was a staple food for the Incas, only surpassed by the potato.

Quinoa is an excellent food because it contains the essential amino acids to form High Biological Value proteins. That makes it a very important food for vegetarians, athletes and especially gluten intolerants, as it does not contain gluten. Furthermore, its high fiber content produces a satiating effect and its intake helps reducing body fat. It is, therefore, ideal for weight loss, in addition to lowering cholesterol and having a low glycemic index.

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In fact, NASA popularized quinoa by using it as a functional food for astronauts in order to prevent certain diseases. FAO considers it «the food of the future», one of the crops to provide food security for the next century as it has great advantages of adaptability to harsh environments (such as the Andean Altiplano region). It is also very fruitful and it is considered a staple product for the poorest people’s diet.

Quinoa has endless possibilities in the kitchen. Traditionally, quinoa beans are roasted and grinded to make a paste with the remaining flour, and it is also fermented for beer. From that flour a flat bread is made, but it is usually mixed with amaranth to strengthen the dough, making it more resistant and more capable of absorbing water. It can also be cooked like rice and can be added to soups, just as cereals. Furthermore, it is cooked like couscous. Puffed quinoa is also used as breakfast cereal, and if you want to elaborate quinoa cookies, puffed quinoa is a better alternative for gluten intolerants than regular wheat toasts.

«2013 is the year of quinoa as declared by the United Nations. Quinoa is an excellent food because it contains the essential amino acids to form High Biological Value proteins»

Quinoa grains are small 3-mm yellow spheres. Their outer pericarp has bitter compounds called saponins, which must be removed by rinsing and washing them with cold water. Its function is defensive: Saponins protect the fruit so predators won’t eat them. However, saponins are removed from commercialized quinoa as it can be toxic to the consumer’s health. In fact, quinoa varieties are classified according to their levels of saponins: sweet (without saponins or less than 0.11%) or bitter (above 0.11%).

Our section wants to offer two alegria recipes, also known as pancakes. Alegria is a Mexican sweet which is made by a combination of amaranth and other ingredients. It is a sweet that you can take when you go hiking, walking or practicing any sport. Like nuts, it contains protein and carbohydrates that help restoring the energy consumed during exercise. It is easy to find puffed cereals and pseudocereals (quinoa, millet, etc.) in health food stores. You can also find them at Valencia’s Central Market at a good price.

ACTIVITY: PUFFED QUINOA PANCAKES

We have prepared two recipe options. Choose your preference.

OPTION 1: Sweet

Ingredients and tools

—Plastic, silicon or metal moulds.

—Chocolate coating.

—Puffed quinoa or other cereals.

—Oil.

Preparaction

—Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over heat.

—Cover the mould walls with oil or butter to ease the removal of the pancake.

—Poseu dins del motlle un parell de cullerades del cereal triat (quinoa, arròs, amarant o altres, inflats) segons la grandària del motlle.

—Deixeu refredar la xocolata uns minuts, no molt perquè no se solidifique.

—Add a couple of tablespoons of the cereal of choice (quinoa, rice, amaranth or other) depending on the size of the mould.

—Cool the melted chocolate for a few minutes. It does not have to solidify.

—Carefully extract the mould.

OPTION 2: Salty

Ingredients and tools

—Two egg whites beaten until stiff. The egg white act as glue, and it is essential to make the pancake since the selected cereals are gluten free.

—Olive oil.

—Amaranth, quinoa and/or puffed amaranth.

—A pinch of salt.

Preparaction

—Heat up the oven for 10 minutes (depending on the power of the oven) to 100°C with high and low heat or fan mode.

—Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt in a bowl.

—Fill approximately half the mould with cereals.

—Add a spoonful of egg whites. If you want to add more be cautious since cereals absorb water from the egg whites and get soft.

—Put the dough in the oven, times vary depending on the thickness of the pancake but it usually takes about 2 minutes to cook.

…and there you have two proposals of vegetable gluten-free snacks, both sweet and salty. As there is a huge variety of grains without gluten, you can enjoy yourselves preparing different meals in an easy way.

© Mètode 2013 - 77. Online only. The Thin Line - Spring 2013

Education Unit at the Botanical Garden of the University of Valencia.

Education Unit at the Botanical Garden of the University of Valencia.

Gabinet de Didàctica del Jardí Botànic de la Universitat de València.