Quinoa is slowly growing in popularity as its superfood status becomes more widely acknowledged, but it still hasn’t quite shaken off its reputation as a ‘niche’ food for health nuts!
If YOU’re something of a quinoa skeptic, then we hope you’ll enjoy this page and be convinced that quinoa is actually a tasty, easy-to-cook food… plus we’ll show you just how simple it is to prepare quinoa baby food for your little one!
Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’ for some odd reason!) is actually a seed, NOT a grain as many people believe. It is, however, used just like a grain and can be cooked and served in place of foods like rice and couscous.
The seeds are tiny and look somewhat like millet – or, as a friend of ours insists, caviar!
The type of quinoa most commonly available is ivory in colour, but you can also find pink, red, brown and black varieties. And the good news is that you can use differently-coloured quinoa seeds interchangeably in your recipes.
South American in origin, quinoa has been consumed for thousands of years and has long been revered for its health-giving properties. The Incans, in fact, believed that it increased the stamina of their warriors!
It is gluten free, so it’s suitable for babies who need to avoid gluten in their diets.
Quinoa also has a higher protein content than any grain and actually contains ALL the essential amino acids. This is very unusual for a plant food and makes quinoa an excellent source of complete protein for vegetarian babies.
And if all these benefits weren’t impressive enough, quinoa is VERY easy to digest!
What more could a baby ask for?
Quinoa is not a common allergen and can be introduced to your baby from 6 months of age (with your doctor’s consent, of course).
Quinoa is one of the first foods that we have offered our children (from 6 months of age) and remains a firm favourite to this day, particularly with our youngest son. He won’t touch another thing on his plate until he has devoured every bit of his quinoa!
It’s good to know that such a healthy food can be such a popular one, too!
There was a time when you could only find quinoa in health food stores – but now that it’s beginning to ‘catch on’, it’s appearing more and more frequently in regular grocery stores.
If you can’t find it available in any stores in your area, then you’ll find it available from many companies online.
Quinoa is sometimes sold in bulk bins. If you buy it from a bulk bin (which is often the most economical option), then make sure that the bin is kept adequately covered, so that it is safe for your baby. It’s also better if the store you buy it from is busy enough to ensure that the stock is regularly turned over… you don’t want to buy stale quinoa!
More often, though, you’ll find quinoa sold pre-packed, particularly in leading supermarkets where it tends to be displayed along with rice and other grains.
Quinoa has a reasonably high oil content. Although it can be stored in an area which is merely cool and dry, it will last even longer – up to 6 months – if you keep it in the fridge.
In their natural state, quinoa seeds have a bitter coating called saponin.
Pre-packed quinoa has usually been thoroughly rinsed to remove this coating, but it’s still a good idea to rinse the seeds again before using them (in fact, the instructions on the packaging will often tell you to do so).
You can do this by placing them in a very fine-mesh strainer and running cold water over them – or do what we do and rinse them in a coffee filter!
The quinoa is then ready for cooking – but there is another step you can take at this point if you choose!
You can give the quinoa a richer, ‘nuttier’ flavour by toasting it after rinsing it. Just make sure the seeds are totally dry, then cook them in a large frying pan / skillet over a medium heat for 3 to 5 mins, until they are golden in colour and producing a tempting aroma!
You might like to experiment with toasted/untoasted quinoa to see which type your baby prefers.
Quinoa is cooked in a similar way to rice – usually, you use twice the quantity of liquid to the quantity of quinoa (ie 2 cups water to one cup quinoa).
Simply bring the liquid to the boil, stir in the quinoa, bring to the boil again, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for around 12 to 18 mins, until the quinoa has absorbed the water. Then, just fluff with a fork!
Do check the packaging, however, as the amount of liquid required and the cooking time do tend to vary from one brand to another.
And please note that you should only rinse quinoa immediately before cooking it – if it’s left sitting around wet (or if you soak the seeds instead of rinsing), the cooking time will be reduced.
When fully cooked, the quinoa seeds are translucent in appearance and soft in texture.
But if you look closely, you’ll see that the germs of the seeds have separated into little curls. These curls are actually quite crunchy and give quinoa a pleasing ‘bite’ (but not to the extent that it is difficult for baby to manage).
The seeds expand a bit when cooked – so be careful how much you use!
That being said, the seeds are still VERY small and VERY messy – make sure you use a good bib (preferably one with a crumb tray or pocket) and cover the carpets when quinoa is on the menu!
You can puree cooked quinoa with milk or water to serve to your baby, although we’ve never quite managed to puree it to a completely smooth texture. Then again, we have only fed it to our little ones FROM 6 months of age, by which time they didn’t object to a little texture anyway!
In fact, we think that the teeny-tiny cooked quinoa seeds – stirred into a puree – make a great stepping stone between smooth and lumpy textures, bridging the gap quite nicely!
If, however, your little one flatly refuses to eat anything with texture, you can grind your quinoa to a powder in a food processor, grain grinder or coffee grinder.