Quinoa is known as a grain and for cooking and eating purposes it can be treated as a grain but it is in fact a seed. The plant we get quinoa from is the goosefoot plant – technical name Chenopodium. It is grown mainly in South America and some parts of the USA. It is closely related to spinach and swiss chard. The plant bears the seeds after flowering about 6 months from sowing although modern growing methods are reducing this cropping cycle. With this 6 month cycle farmers can get 2 crop cycles a year but research is currently looking at trying to achieve 3 quinoa crops per year. This is pretty intensive but reflects the increasing popularity of quinoa.
You can use the leaves from the goosefoot plant in salads and as a vegetable in other dishes but this has to be fresh due to the fact that it doesn’t store well.
Being a grain makes little difference to how you use it
The fact that quinoa is a seed and not a grain makes little difference from the point of view of cooking. It is usually cataloged with grains and can be substituted for most grains without a problem. The high protein content of quinoa makes it highly desirable for inclusion in your diet. The only facet of quinoa that may cause a problem in converting recipes is that it has a slightly higher fat content and some baking dishes such as scones and flapjacks may be slightly more oily than you would like.
What you do with quinoa
For use as an accompaniament to hot spice and savoury dishes it is ideal. An improvement on white rice with its crunchy texture and slightly nutty taste. The easiest way to use it is in salads mixed with other vegetables such as peppers, celery and sweet corn. Being a seed it can also be sprouted. This takes only a couple of days and the raw quinoa sprouts are highly nutritious if a little bland. They are best mixed in with other ingredients.