Over 3,000 years ago, high in the Andes mountains in South America, the Incas began to cultivate quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) as one of their staple crops, believing that it gave power and stamina to their warriors. This amazing super-food has been called “the gold of the Incas.” In the mid 1980s, two North Americans stumbled upon this ancient super-food and began cultivating it. Since then, quinoa’s popularity has exploded worldwide. Although it is cooked and eaten like a grain, quinoa is technically a seed, and is related to spinach, chard and beets. The seeds are round, about the same size of millet or sesame seeds. Quinoa comes in a rainbow of colors, including red, purple, green, and yellow. Although, the quinoa that is most commonly found in stores is an off-white color. Look for quinoa in the bulk section of natural food stores, or in the organic section of conventional supermarkets. What makes quinoa such a healthy option is the protein it provides. The protein quality of quinoa is considered to be on par with the protein quality of dairy products. This is because quinoa, unlike most grains, includes all of the eight essential amino acids that are needed for tissue growth and repair. Not only is the “mother of all grains” high in protein, but it is also incredibly low in fat. Quinoa is high in manganese, which acts as a disease and cancer fighting antioxidant in the body. Other vital nutrients that quinoa provides are: magnesium, fiber, calcium, riboflavin, copper and potassium. Complete proteins are rare in the plant world, making quinoa an excellent food for vegetarians and vegans, or for anyone looking for a healthy protein source. Antioxidant phytonutrients have recently been discovered in quinoa. Two flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, are now known to be provided by quinoa in especially concentrated amounts. In fact, the concentration of these two flavonoids in quinoa can sometimes be greater than their concentration in high-flavonoid berries like cranberries. Recent studies are providing a greatly expanded list of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in quinoa. The presence of anti-inflammatory compounds in quinoa may help explain animal studies which show decreased risk of inflammation-related problems (including obesity) when animals are fed quinoa on a daily basis. Quinoa also provides small amounts of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Quinoa is gluten-free. Preparing quinoa is relatively easy and quick. Before cooking quinoa, it is important that you thoroughly wash the seeds in order to remove the saponin that coats them. Saponin can lead to a bitter taste. Usually, quinoa has been rinsed and washed before being sold, however, it is still recommended to wash it again before preparing to ensure that all of the saponin is removed. To wash the quinoa, just place it in a strainer and rince it thoroughly for a few minutes. To prepare quinoa, combine one cup rinsed quinoa to two cups water or broth, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the seeds become translucent. Quinoa has a light, slightly nutty taste and a fluffy texture. Quinoa can be prepared in a variety of ways. It can be used in hot breakfast cereals, chili, salads and casseroles. It can also be used to replace rice and other grains and to thicken soups. Quinoa is delicious served cold or warm and can be frozen and reheated.