By Junko Yamamoto

What is quinoa?  I think most of the people who hear the word “quinoa” (pronounced as “keen-wah”) for the first time do not have any idea what quinoa is.  It is the name of a food.  It looks like a grain, but does not belong to the grain family.  It is a seed which belong to the spinach and beets family.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization decided to make the year 2013 as the “Year of Quinoa”, recognizing the crop’s high nutritional value and its potential contribution in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. Why does quinoa get this kind of special treatment? It is because Quinoa is regarded as “The New Health Food Superstar”. Its exceptional nutritional qualities led NASA to include it as part of its astronaut’s diet on long space missions. In 1993, a NASA technical paper said that while no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes closer than any other in the plant or animal kingdoms.

These are special features about quinoa.

  1. High in protein (14%~18%) – Contains more protein than rice, wheat, oats, maize and can be a substitute for animal protein.
  2. A good source of riboflavin (B2) and vitamin E – Improves the energy metabolism within brain and muscle cells.
  3. Low calories – Only 172 calories per 1/4 cup dry quinoa.
  4. Gluten free.
  5. Contains 10 different kinds of essential amino acids for the human diets.
  6. Contains more calcium, cilium, magnesium, and phosphorus than other grains.
  7. A complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index which is good for sugar control.

What’s more, according to a recent study, it revealed that quinoa contains phytoestrogens which are said to prevent osteoporosis, arteriosclerosis and breast cancer. As everyone knows, estrogen production in the human body is greatly reduced after menopause. I personally want to add a couple of more benefits of eating quinoa. First, quinoa is a very economical food. Also you can buy it at local supermarkets. Making quinoa dishes are so easy and mistake-free. I would like to write up two quinoa dishes here. Both are easy to make and become a delightful addition at your meal table.


l. Zesty Quinoa Salad


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 (15ounce) can black beans, drained
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 5 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 tsp. salt Salt and ground pepper to taste


  1. Put 1 cup of quinoa in a colander and rinse with running water for a couple of minutes and drain thoroughly.
  2. Bring quinoa and water (2 cups) to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until quinoa is tender and water has been absorbed. Takes approx. 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, red pepper flakes together in a bowl.
  4. Combine quinoa, tomatoes, black beans, and green onions together in a bowl. Pour dressing over quinoa mixture; toss to coat. Stir in coriander and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator.

You can add in diced avocado, diced cucumber, or onions instead of green onions. I normally add Italian parsley too.


2. Deluxe Quinoa Pudding (gluten free)


  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked
  • 2/3 cup dried apricots chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 2 1/2 cups almond or coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. coconut oil


  1. Mix cooked quinoa in a glass baking dish with remaining ingredients, except 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut.
  2. Sprinkle 1/4 cup coconut on top
  3. Bake at 400º in the oven for 40~50 minutes
  4. Serve warm and refrigerate the rest till ready to eat.


  1. Even though quinoa is the ideal food for your health, there is always a drawback of eating one thing too much every day, and quinoa is no exception. Quinoa contains oxalates which may trigger the formation of kidney stones, even though medical research is not concluded yet. A couple of times a week of eating is recommended.
  2. To protect from insects and birds, quinoa is coated with a toxic chemical called saponin. The sticky, bitter, soapy film of saponin should be rinsed thoroughly with running water before cooking. Even though the producers claim the products are pre-washed to the highest standard, it is still recommended to wash it again, just like you wash your rice before you cook.