Peru is undoubtedly one of the most biodiverse places on earth and, consequently, has a great variety of things to experience. Not only will you be able to enjoy wide biodiversity in Peru, but also a large number of unique and nutritious foods. And perhaps among all the foods available in Peru, the best known of them is the ancient farming of Quinoa. Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andean country for thousands of years. It was one of the main crops of the Incas, and a staple in the diet of the inhabitants. And being so important, you may have doubts. But have you ever wondered why quinoa is so popular? Or what makes quinoa a superfood? If so, together with Machu Travel Peru we have prepared a small article where we delve into Quinoa. Learn about the most important characteristics of this wonderful Peruvian food.
A guide to everything you need to know about quinoa
- What is quinoa?
- Main benefits of Quinoa
- Possible benefits of long-term consumption
- Quinoa history
- Different varieties
- Quinoa dishes
WHAT IS QUINOA?
Quinoa was acknowledged among the Incas as the “mother grain”. It is the seed of the Chenopodium Quinoa plant, which grows naturally in the Andean region of Peru. The plant is part of the Goosefoot family and can grow between three to seven feet tall. It is a plant that supports harsh climates, preferring colder temperatures characteristic of the Peruvian Andes. It’s also usually a fairly robust plant, being able to grow in fairly poor soils.
Often mistaken for a kind of whole grain, but it’s actually a pseudocereal. Putting it in another perspective, quinoa is a seed that acts like a grain. Being from the goosefoot family, the plant is more like spinach and beets than whole grains like wheat or oats. Both the seeds and the leaves of this plant are edible.
Quinoa is classified as one of the many Peruvian superfoods. Since it is not only gluten-free, but it also has more protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber than any of the usual grains and seeds available.
Due to its composition and beneficial characteristics to our body, quinoa is perfect to include in our diet. And being a superfood, it fills us with vitality and health when we consume it. It is highly recommended for those with high fiber needs. Among its properties, it stands out that it is an ideal food for those intolerant to gluten. But, when did quinoa become a superfood? It was during 2013 that the FAO (The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) recognized 2013 as the international year of quinoa. And the UN introduced it into the well-known group of superfoods. It was 2013 and 2014 where this pseudocereal has taken on greater importance and popularity.
MAIN BENEFITS OF QUINOA
Quinoa is one of those foods that is as healthy as it is popular. And it is not surprising with the many benefits it has going for it. For this reason, we have decided to name the most notable benefits of Quinoa in Peru.
Technically it is not a cereal grain, it is more of a pseudocereal. In other words, it is a seed that is prepared and eaten as if it were a grain. This cultivation was of great importance to the Inca Empire. It was seen as the “mother of all grains” and was sacred. It was consumed for thousands of years before it became so popular. And its nutritional content often rivals a host of superfoods.
In a cup of about 185 grams of cooked quinoa, you can find the following amount of nutrients.
- 5 grams of fiber
- 8 grams of protein
- 9% of the RDA for Potassium
- 13% of the RDA of Zinc
- 15% of the RDA for Iron
- 50% of the recommended daily amount of Manganese
- 30% of the RDA for Magnesium
- 28% of the RDA for Phosphorus
- More than 10% of the RDA of vitamins B2, B6, and B1
- Some small amounts of B3 (niacin), Calcium, and Vitamin E.
- 19% of the RDA for Folate
- 18% of the RDA for Copper
The 185-gram cup equates to about 222 calories with 4 grams of fat and about 39 grams of carbohydrates. It also contains a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
CONTAINS MORE FIBER THAN MOST GRAINS
Another great benefit of Quinoa is that it is high in fiber. A study that analyzed about 4 varieties of quinoa, found approximately between 10 to 16 grams of fiber for every 100 grams of Quinoa. This balances to about 27 to 17 grams per cup. This is a considerable amount since it is usually double that of most grains. Although boiled quinoa contains much less fiber by absorbing more water.
Despite this, most of the fiber is insoluble. And insoluble fiber doesn’t usually have the same health benefits as soluble fiber. Despite this, the soluble fiber content in quinoa is still pretty decent. Since you can find between 1.5 grams to 2.5 grams of soluble fiber per 100 grams of quinoa.
IT IS GLUTEN-FREE
A gluten-free diet can bring numerous health benefits, especially if it is based on foods that do not contain gluten naturally. Quinoa is an excellent alternative to include in the diet of those who seek to avoid gluten. Some researchers consider quinoa one of the best ingredients for those who don’t want to give up on bread or pasta. Some studies even show that it can replace refined tapioca, potato, corn, and rice flour. Dramatically enhancing the value of antioxidants and nutrients in your diet.
HIGH IN ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS AND PROTEINS
Our body cannot naturally produce the nine essential amino acids of which protein is composed. So it is necessary to include these in our diets. If a food contains all nine essential amino acids, it is called a complete protein food. And many foods of plant origin are usually deficient in some essential amino acids such as lysine. But quinoa seems to be the exception to this rule, as it contains a large amount of all the essential amino acids. And being such a great source of protein, it becomes one of the favorite foods of vegetarians.
IT HAS A LOW GLYCEMIC INDEX
Quinoa has a fairly low glycemic index. When we talk about the glycemic index, we mean the measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels. And having a low glycemic index is good for optimal blood sugar control. Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is relatively low.
Eating foods with a high glycemic index has consequences that contribute to obesity and stimulates hunger. Besides, these types of foods are linked to other chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Although it has a low index, it is still a high carbohydrate food. So if you are on a low-carb diet, quinoa may not always be your option.
HAS FAVORABLE EFFECTS ON METABOLISM
Being a superfood high in nutrient content, it is understandable how quinoa can aid metabolic health. To date, there are two studies examining the effects of the grain on metabolic health in humans and animals.
The human study found that the use of quinoa significantly reduced blood sugar, triglyceride, and insulin levels. Especially if it is replaced by typical gluten-free bread and pasta.
And today, new studies and research continue to study the benefits of quinoa on metabolism. In animals on high fructose diets, quinoa is known to inhibit the negative effects of fructose. But there is still a long way to go to fully understand all the hidden benefits of this superfood.
IT IS RICH IN ANTIOXIDANTS
Among its many properties, is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are popular substances that neutralize free radicals. They help fight aging and many other diseases. There was a study that investigated the antioxidant levels in five kinds of cereal, two types of legumes, and three pseudo-cereals. The study found that quinoa had the highest content among all the ten foods. And it is known that when the seeds are allowed to sprout, the content seems to increase even more.
POSSIBLE BENEFITS OF LONG-TERM CONSUMPTION
The amount of research on quinoa has grown considerably over the years. And a lot is due in part to the huge popularity it began to take in 2014. But a large part is due to the undeniable health benefits. This pseudocereal is very rich in nutrients and reduces the risk of several different diseases. In addition, it is an ideal alternative full of proteins to replace some foods in your diet.
Whole grains are known to be preventative for certain types of cancer. This is due in large part to the high levels of fiber. A study belonging to The Journal of Nutrition suggests how the fiber in whole grains helps reduce levels of bad cholesterol, also called LDL cholesterol. Which potentially reduces the risk of gastrointestinal cancers such as the colon.
The amount of research has grown tremendously over the years, partly due to the 2014 hype, but largely due to the continuously recognized health benefits of the seed. This nutrient-rich pseudocereal is intended to reduce the risk of many diseases and provides an ideal protein-packed substitute for gluten-free diets. In addition, another study suggests that consumers of foods high in magnesium have a lower risk of strokes. And quinoa contains great levels of magnesium. So eating it regularly has benefits for your heart health. So, is it Ok to eat quinoa every day? Yes, yes it is. Many vegetarians even do it.
Quinoa is an important part of Peruvian history. It originated in the highlands of Bolivia and Peru. Surprisingly, the seed was originally used only to feed livestock. But then humans also started using it for their own consumption. There is not much archaeological or linguistic evidence for quinoa. Nor are there too many religious rites associated with the use of grain. But some findings in the Ayacucho area suggest that the domestication of the grain occurred in 5000 BC. Quinoa has also been found in different tombs in the regions of Peru.
Within ancient civilizations such as the Incas and the pre-Inca, it was a food with a leading role. For both modern Quechua and Aymara peoples, it continues to be so today. In fact, the harvest is used for the nutrition of the people and as a sacred element during the different rituals. It can be offered as a tribute at many religious festivals. If you are lucky, within the many tours in Peru, you will be able to know this incredible food.
The conquerors destroyed most of the Quinoa fields during the conquest. And the colonizers discarded this food by bringing their own grains. And the colonizers discarded this food by bringing their own grains. The wheat and barley of Europe were better because they were easier to grow and much more fruitful. So the food lost much of its importance during the following years. But the different isolated Andean villages continued with their traditional crops. Today, with its recognition and its great demand in European countries, it is one of the number one products in Peru.
There are over 1800 subspecies of this ancient Inca crop, and the seeds come in a wide variety of colors. Generally, the most common colors in this plant are white, red, and black. But it can also be seen in purple, pink, gray, orange, and yellow colors. With the growing popularity of this food and its large crops, many varieties of quinoa have been forgotten. Export demand has focused on very few of the many different varieties, leading farmers to abandon many of these other unknown varieties. But in general, among quinoa you can find the following varieties:
- WHITE QUINOA
This white seed is one of the best-known and most widespread varieties in the world. It has a light flavor, it cooks faster and its texture is fluffy and pleasant. Unlike the red and black varieties, this white seed is not crunchy at all. One of the most classic varieties within Peruvian gastronomy.
- RED QUINOA
The red seed has a much more pronounced and rich flavor that closely resembles walnuts. It also has a much softer texture and tends to retain its characteristic shape after cooking. It is a great option to use in salads.
- BLACK QUINOA
Unlike the other varieties, this seed has a more earthy and sweet flavor. It has a texture quite similar to that of the red variety and usually maintains its characteristic color after cooking.
Quinoa can be cooked in a number of different ways. The natural grain itself takes no more than 15 minutes to cook. Although if you are cooking the black quinoa variety, it may take a little longer. The flakes, on the other hand, take no more than 2 minutes to cook. Making them an excellent breakfast or snack to go. Quinoa works great on its own and is a great substitute for rice. Its flavor is strengthened if it is combined with other ingredients. With a subtle flavor and somewhat fluffy texture, the whole grain profile is easy to spice up with other flavors or ingredients. And its characteristic mild flavor means that it can be served both salty or sweet.
Today, this ancient Inca seed is used in a wide variety of traditional sweet and savory dishes. And with great nutritional value, it is not surprising that it appears even in fusion food recipes. A clear example is the Chaufa de Quinoa, this iconic dish is not very different from what everyone knows. Nowadays chefs try to renew and revolutionize their different dishes. Many times you will see international dishes with iconic traditional touches. And quinoa has a strong role in this regard.
CHAUFA DE QUINOA (QUINOA CHAUFA)
This is an alternative to the traditional Peruvian rice Chaufa. This dish is characterized by the fact that the rice is replaced by the delicious quinoa.
- Dry Laurel
- White quinoa (400 grams)
- White Oil
- Chinese Onion (Chives)
- Dark Soy Sauce
- Eggs (3)
- Red pepper
- Snow peas
- Chicken (400 grams)
- First of all, you should wash the quinoa. Then cook it for about 10 minutes. Let it rest in a colander.
- Chop the chives and garlic
- Cut the chicken into small pieces
- Make omelets with the 3 eggs. Cook these and then cut them into small squares.
- Cut the broccoli into small pieces and cook it for no more than 15 minutes.
- Cut the pepper into small squares.
- Cook the chicken in a wok or pan. Spice with salt and pepper.
- In the wok, fry the ginger, garlic, pepper, snow peas, and chives with a splash of oil.
- Slowly add the quinoa and sauté. Then add soy sauce while adding the chicken, the chopped omelets, and the green part of the chives.
- Done! Ready to enjoy.
ENSALADA DE QUINOA (QUINOA SALAD)
This salad is a very healthy option, and depending on your taste you can add whatever you like! Here we will show you a quinoa salad with avocado and tuna.
- White Quinoa (125 grams)
- Avocado (1)
- Cherry tomatoes (1 handful)
- Can of Tuna (1)
- Lemon (1)
- Parsley (1 branch)
- Salt and pepper
- Wash and cook the quinoa for about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Let the quinoa rest until it cools, as it is a cold salad.
- While the quinoa is cooling, chop the parsley. Cut the Lemon too.
- Chop the handful of cherry tomatoes in half.
- Cut the avocado into small pieces.
- Put your chilled quinoa in a bowl. Mix all ingredients. Including tuna. Sprinkle the parsley and garnish it with lemon and salt. If you like you can add some Pepper too.
- Ready to enjoy!
QUINOA A LA HUANCAINA (QUINOA WITH CREAMY CHEESE SAUCE)
This delicious recipe includes the use of quinoa in the traditional dish. You can enjoy the delicious Huancaina sauce with this superfood.
- White Quinoa (2 cups)
- Yellow Potato (4 potatoes)
- Eggs (2)
- Huancaina Cream
- Organic Lettuce (2 leaves)
- Salt, Pepper, Cumin, and Oregano
- Brown olives
- Wash the Quinoa and cook it for 15 minutes. Add salt, pepper, oregano, and cumin to taste.
- Boil the eggs and potatoes
- Season the quinoa with a little Salsa Huancaina
- Wash the lettuce.
- To serve. First, put the lettuce, then the potato cut into slices. Put the seasoned quinoa. On top of this add the Huancaina Sauce to taste along with the eggs and olives.
TAMAL DE QUINOA
This nutritious and delicious dish is one of the many traditions of Peru. So the Tamal de Quinoa could not be missing.
- White Quinoa (2 cups)
- Vegetable oil
- Ground Chili Pepper
- Banana leaves
Ingredients for filling:
- Chicken (250 grams)
- Washing and cooking the quinoa
- Prepare the dressing with vegetable oil and Ají Panca pepper. Add the cooked quinoa. Add salt to taste. Let it rest.
- For the filling, it is necessary to fry ground garlic, Ají Panca, and diced onion.
- Cut the chicken and add it to the filling preparation. Let the filling cook.
- Boil the eggs.
- To assemble the tamale we spread the banana leaf. We place the seasoned quinoa.
- On top of this, we place the filling. Also a boiled egg and olives.
- Shape the tamale and close it with strips of banana leaf.
- Cook in water for about 30 minutes.
CAUSA DE QUINOA
Causa is already a traditional dish within the varied gastronomy of Peru. And the Causa De Quinoa dares to go further with the delicious taste of pseudocereal.
- White Quinoa (1 and a half cups)
- Lemons (4)
- Carrots (2)
- Vegetable oil
- Medium Potatoes (2)
- Chicken (½ kilogram)
- Peas (100 grams)
- Red Pepper (1)
- Eggs (2)
- Washing and cooking the Quinoa
- Cooking potatoes separately
- Cook carrots and then blend them.
- Knead the quinoa together with the cooked potatoes. Add the blended carrot. Add salt and a tablespoon of oil. Let it rest.
- For the filling, make a dressing with pieces of carrots, peas, and water. Let it cook.
- Add diced chicken, blended bell pepper, and salt to taste.
- Serve in such a way as to layer the quinoa and potato batter. Then add the filling and another layer of dough. Decorate with eggs.
“NEVER EAT ANYTHING YOU CAN’T PRONOUNCE. EXCEPT FOR QUINOA, YOU SHOULD EAT QUINOA.”
As you will see, quinoa is a Peruvian food with great benefits and properties that you should not rule out knowing and trying. And with its great international demand, you can find it in any supermarket or health food store. The safest thing is that you can find it in your country of origin. But if you are looking to taste and enjoy the real quinoa, you have to travel to Peru. You will have options of incredible dishes and to buy this incredible food from its true source. Together with Machu Travel Peru, we hope we have been of help. If you want to know more about this ingredient, you can ask our team. Our qualified advisors will be happy to help you learn more about our culture and tradition