Gluten-Free Pantry Essentials: Quinoa
I have partnered with Sara Morrison and Tom Merrow of Onset Worldwide, a global supplier of high-quality bulk superfoods (along with other related services), to provide you with information about naturally gluten-free ingredients that you may want to add to your gluten-free pantry.
As a bulk wholesaler, Onset Worldwide supplies manufacturers, contract packaging companies, commercial bakeries, and other companies that source large volumes of high-quality bulk (2000+ pounds per order) ingredients.
Sara and Tom have customers who rely on them to provide the best available quality ingredients, so they have made it their business to know as much as they can about each of the ingredients they offer. I met them over the summer and was impressed with the breadth of their knowledge, especially as it relates to differences in ingredient quality. As purchasing superfoods gets easier for the average consumer—they are now available everywhere from warehouse discount stores to high-end health food stores—it is more important than ever to know how to select the right option for you.
What is it?
Quinoa is technically a seed, but it is typically considered a grain or pseudo-cereal due to the nature of its use and cooking recommendations. It is naturally gluten free.
Where is it sourced?
Quinoa is grown commercially in South America, mainly Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. We at Onset Worldwide source mainly from Peru and Ecuador.
Why is it good for you?
Quinoa is high in protein, B vitamins, and dietary fiber. It is a more nutritional substitute for rice because it contains 8 essential amino acids to make it a complete protein. Please keep in mind that nutritionals can change depending on brand, farm, country of origin, cooking time, cooking heat, germination length, drying heat, et cetera.
How do you determine if it is high quality?
Determining quality of quinoa consists of a visual, physical and analytical inspection. Visually inspect the whole quinoa and note the whole seed. If there’s any powder forming in the bottom of the bag, this is likely due to the saponin content or broken seeds/grains. The saponin on the outside of the quinoa seed/grain has a bitter taste. The analytical aspect consists of sending the seeds to a lab for testing: standard plate count, coliform count, e. coli, staphylococcus count, salmonella, yeast and mold.
What options can you buy?
Whole Quinoa Seeds
Conventional vs Organic Quinoa
Organic quinoa is certified organic throughout the entire supply chain. The farms must go through extensive water, soil, and air quality testing, as well as only use USDA organic approved pesticides/herbicides, if any. All the processing and cleaning equipment at the farms, mills, and packaging facilities must be maintained and cleaned per organic standards. The seeds themselves must be non-GMO and not irradiated as well. The organic lot numbers must be traceable from source to consumer. More information on organic standards can be found on the USDA website.
Conventional quinoa doesn’t have to follow these rigorous procedures. Quinoa seeds are not yet genetically modified, and therefore, Onset Worldwide can also offer a Non-GMO statement to customers for both conventional and organic quinoa.
White vs Red vs Black Quinoa
There’s no significant difference between white, red, and black quinoa besides the color, availability, and price. White quinoa is the most predominantly grown and, therefore, the cheapest type of quinoa.
Created by subjecting the whole quinoa seed to moisture and allowing tiny sprouts to grow. The sprouted quinoa seeds are then either used in a frozen, wet mixture, or dried. Drying temperature and time varies per customer.
Formed when the whole seed is sent through a roasting machine. The temperature and time roasted varies per customer.
Either crude (uncooked) or pre-cooked quinoa, which is rolled into flakes.
Usually crude (uncooked) whole seed milled into a fine flour.
Baby Quinoa (Kaniwa / Canihua)
Kaniwa is closely related to quinoa, and looks like a smaller version of a red quinoa seed. In terms of nutritional, Kaniwa resembles quinoa.
How do you store it?
This is what we write on our COAs (certificates of analysis) after import and testing: “Store in its original, closed packaging, in dry and dark conditions. You are advised to keep product at room temperature or below (18°C or 65°F), and below 70% relative humidity. Re-test after 24 months.”
How long can you store it?
We recommend not storing edible seeds longer than 2 years, as moisture or storage conditions may hinder the shelf life. Milled, flaked, and flour may have shorter shelf lives. Always check the best by or use by date on the retail packaging, as the product may have aged since import.
How can you use it?
We would recommend to rinse and cook whole quinoa before eating because there is a relatively large difference between the nutrition of cooked and uncooked quinoa. Raw quinoa may contain more nutrients, but it is also more difficult to digest. We would recommend to rinse and cook quinoa before eating. Cook quinoa the same way you’d cook rice, usually 1 cup of uncooked quinoa to 2 cups of water. The flakes and flour can be used in baking.