Get to Know a Gluten-Free Grain: Quinoa

Above: Quinoa flowering. Flickr/net_efekt

This week, we continue on our journey through the ancient grains that can used in brewing gluten-free beer. Up now: quinoa. This small, round seed come from the plant chenopodium quinoa, a member of the species of goosefruit (Amaranthaceae). This means that, like many of the other “ancient grains,” is not a true grain, but a pseudocereal, exhibiting features of cereal crops while not being related to wheat. It is more closely related to beets, spinach, tumbleweeds, and amaranth, another gluten-free grain.

Quinoa was domesticated in South America around three to four thousand years ago. The Incas actually held the grains sacred and viewed it as the “mother of the grains.” When the Spanish arrived in the late 1400s, they actively tried to squash the cultivation of the grain, largely due to its religious significance for the native people. Flash forward a couple hundred years, and quinoa has become increasingly popular in the US, Europe, China, and Japan. Quinoa prices tripled between 2006 and 2013.

The quinoa seeds themselves are about 2 mm in diameters and come in range of colors. The seeds grown on 1-2 meter tall wood-stemmed plants. They are cultivated almost exclusively in the mountainous regions of South America, though it has been tried in several regions of the United States, like Colorado.

Quinoa

Quinoa seeds up-close. Flickr/net_efekt.

Part of the recent rise in popularity is due to the nutritional value of this small little seed. They actually contain many more nutrients than traditional grains and their overall nutrient composition is actually somewhat surprising. They are naturally gluten-free and overcome the shortfalls of traditional grains by offering high levels of protein, as well as calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphate, and others. Recent research has also found that quinoa offers heart-healthy fats and fatty acids, as well as anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Due to all these benefits, as well as the cultural significance and popularity of the grain, 2013 was declared the International Year of Quinoa by the United Nations.

Quinoa can be cooked in a variety of ways. It can be simply boiled as a side dish, like rice or couscous, or mixed in warm or cold to salads, greens, mixed vegetables, or other dishes to add flavor and crunch. Quinoa flour can be used to replace traditional baking flour and used to make things like cakes and pancakes, as we discussed in an earlier post. It is also a great ingredient for gluten-free beer, particularly as a specialty grain to add head retention and flavor.

Quinoa Cakes

Quinoa cakes. Withthegrains.com

Other Info About Quinoa

Name: Quinoa
Family: Amaranthaceae (goosefruit)
Other names: Known by several names in South America, including ayara, kiuna, achita, chisaya mama, supha, vocali, suba, and dawe
Largest Producer in the world: Peru, followed by Bolivia
World Production80 thousand metric tonnes (2011)