Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Vanessa from Omaha, NE. Vanessa Wonders, “What is quinoa?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Vanessa!
Do you feel a rumbling in your tummy? Depending upon when you last ate, it may be getting close to time for a snack. When our bodies need more fuel, we'll often feel a commotion in the abdominal region indicating that we're hungry and it's time to eat!
Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") appears to have gotten its start in the arid soils of the Andes Mountains of Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru over 5,000 years ago. It became the primary food source of the Incas, who considered it sacred and called it the "mother seed."
Although quinoa is usually considered a whole grain and can be cooked like whole grains, such as rice and barley, it's actually not a true grass. Instead, it's a species more closely related to spinach, beets, and tumbleweeds and is grown for its edible seeds.
Since the early 1980s, quinoa has also been grown in the United States. Since it thrives in a cool, dry environment, the high-altitude desert located in the San Luis Valley in Colorado has been the perfect spot to introduce the crop to North America.
Compared to true whole grains, quinoa has many health benefits that have made it a popular food, especially amongst people trying to eat a healthier diet. For example, quinoa is high in protein, which makes it appealing to vegetarians and vegans. In fact, quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids.
Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate that has a low glycemic index. This makes it appealing to those watching their blood sugar levels. It's also gluten-free, making it popular amongst people with gluten allergies. If you're watching your heart health, quinoa is also cholesterol-free. Those who enjoy quinoa also benefit from the fact that it contains several important nutrients, including calcium, phosphorus, iron, and riboflavin.
Before preparing quinoa, you have to rinse it thoroughly in cold water. Rinsing gets rid of the bitter-tasting, toxic chemicals called saponins that coat quinoa seeds. The saponins form a sticky, soapy, bitter film that protects the seeds from birds that might otherwise eat the seeds before harvest.
In South America, the saponins rinsed off of quinoa seeds don't go to waste. Even though they aren't edible, they have antiseptic properties that make them useful for treating skin injuries. Others also use the saponins to make laundry detergent!