by Laura Bushey M.A. and Marisa Silverstein H.H.C., A.A.D.P.
What are the different varieties of quinoa?
There are over three thousand varieties and much diversity among varieties but rest assured you will probably only come across white, red and to a lesser extent black in the grocery aisles and in health food stores. Quinoa consists of a hard, shiny, four-layered fruit (YES! Fruit!) wall which encloses each “seed”. Quinoa seeds must be processed to remove a natural phytochemical property and anti-nutrient called saponin, which is the plant’s natural defense systems to protect itself from infections by parasites. Since saponins are quite bitter, removal is warranted. All commercial quinoa sold has had saponins removed by mechanical means or mixed-washing. Some suggest a vigorous rinse in the sink as an extra measure.
What does quinoa look like?
The seed is usually somewhat flat, normally pale yellow, but may vary from almost white to pink, orange or red to brown and black. The embryo can be up to 60 percent of the seed weight. It forms a ring around the endosperm that loosens when the seed is cooked. The white variety is rather mild and exceptionally versatile in foods as its own flavor can be easily masked by accompanying ingredients. On the other hand, the darker red and black variety have a more nutty and smoky flavor and holds up well in heavier dishes like soups and stews and even kale salads.
So, what is quinoa? A grain or a seed?
Technically speaking, quinoa is a seed, not a grain. Quinoa is more closely related to leafy green plants like beets, chard and spinach! In cooking, quinoa is prepared much like a carb, however, quinoa offers a highly nutritious balance of protein, fat, oil and starch… double the amount of protein found in a cereal grain! As for carbs, the seed contains anywhere from 58-68 percent starch and 5 percent sugar. So, with all that great information about quinoa, check out our recipe Quinoa Tabbouleh.
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