I have been confronted a couple times lately on Twitter and accused of not telling the whole story about quinoa with my tweet, Quinoa has 80% more protein and 50% more fiber than brown rice…and it cooks in fifteen minutes.
Let’s face it, no one tells the whole story about anything in 140 characters, but I do try to tell as much of the quinoa story as I can over here on my blog.
One thing this quin-spiracy theorist said has been eating at me, though. He accused me of being so focused on the rice that I was ignoring the truth about oatmeal and corn. At first, I was defensive about this statement, but then I realized it is true. I do ignore corn and oatmeal and focus on rice in a lot of my quinoa discussions, because for me–and I suspect for most of you too–quinoa and rice fill a similar niche on my dinner plate, and it is not the same niche as oats and corn.
To be honest, a big part of my love affair with quinoa is a reaction against rice. Rice accompanies many of my favorite dishes, especially those with a lot of vegetables, but I do not care for it all that much.
I know I should have more respect for rice. The fact that rice features prominently in the diets of so many cultures attests to its versatility.
Rice has a high yield per acre that has allowed rice-based economies to feed a far greater number of people per cultivated acre than wheat or corn. Civilizations in Asia throughout history–and worldwide in recent centuries thanks to trade and emigration–have flourished on the nourishment rice offers.
I get that.
White Rice, Plain and Simple
I just don’t like white rice, plain and simple. When I was young, that’s how it was served to me. My mom would serve plain, white rice as a side dish. No dressing, no gravy. We could put butter on it, but that was it. I could not then, and I cannot now imagine anything more boring than white rice.
Sometimes, my dad would let us eat leftover rice with milk, sugar, and cinnamon for breakfast, but I always felt that was a bribe to use up the rice.
When I married and began feeding a family of my own, I learned the value of rice as an inexpensive nutrient. I learned to cook many dishes that I loved, and which are usually served over rice. And like any busy cook, I was seduced by the promise of something you can fix and forget, like a pot of rice.
But let’s face it, rice can be a pain in the pot.
Bear With This Story, Please
Imagine a pot of rice simmering on the back burner, when from the den Mother Bear hears cub #2 crying about something cub #1 is doing. She has to go check out the situation, right?
While she’s gone, Father Bear wanders in the kitchen and lifts the pot lid to see what is planned for dinner.
You can’t blame him. He has a right to see what is cooking in his kitchen, right?
But if you have cooked rice often, you know what can happen next. The pot can lose its simmer. Lifting the lid to check will only exacerbate the problem. Turning up the heat to retrieve the simmer will burn rice to the bottom of the pan. There’s a distinct possibility when you get ready to serve your rice, you will find it swimming in a puddle of water.
If you drain the rice and serve it like that, it will be unpleasantly crunchy.
And if anyone starts laying blame for the rice, dinner is ruined.
At Least Get a Rice Cooker
White rice and I were on much better terms once Papa Bear bought a rice cooker (affiliate link). I don’t know where we parted ways, but back in the day, my rice cooker displayed its contents and the countdown to dinnertime, so Papa Bear could answer two questions for himself without jeopardizing dinner. Unfortunately, the timer on my rice cooker only went up to 75 minutes, and that was never enough time to completely cook brown rice.
Brown Rice is Healthier Than White
Of course, we all have heard that whole grains are better for us than their processed, white versions. I tried to switch to brown rice in the early 90′s and again a decade later, but the cubs were resistant. Remembering my own dislike of rice, I was somewhat sympathetic. Besides, brown rice takes 45 minutes or so to cook on the stove.
Brown rice is not something you whip up on a whim, and everything that can go wrong with white rice has twice as much opportunity to happen with brown rice.
White Rice May Be Related to the Rise in Type 2 Diabetes
But then studies began coming in like this, claiming a possible connection between type 2 diabetes and white rice. Some have suggested this is because white rice has a high glycemic index, which causes spikes in blood sugar.
This worried me. My grandmother had to give herself a shot of insulin every day. My dad had diabetes and died before he was sixty. My mom has diabetes.
So, for several years now, I have suspected that something I don’t like anyway may be a substance I ought to avoid at all costs.
But what about all those wonderful dishes I love?
- General Tso’s Chicken
- Bul Go Gi
I could go on and on.
Quinoa Rescued These Dishes for Me
I met quinoa in the summer of 2010, and my whole take on rice dishes changed. I realized that anything rice could do, quinoa could do better, simply by virtue of the fact that it is so forgiving in the kitchen.
Quinoa cooks in fifteen minutes. And honestly, if you cook it for the first five to nine minutes (depending on the method of cooking) and keep it covered and warm for the rest of the time, it will usually finish cooking itself on its own steam. For example, you can microwave it for nine minutes and then let it sit and continue cooking itself for another six minutes. Or you can bring it to a strong boil for five minutes, cover it, turn off the heat and let it sit for ten minutes.
You need not fret if there is any water left, you can drain the quinoa through the sieve you used to rinse it before cooking. If you do this quickly and smoothly, no one will ever suspect that you had not planned it that way. Underdone quinoa is just a bit chewier than fully cooked quinoa, and actually, all quinoa is small enough to be swallowed whole if you don’t feel up to chewing it.
It is very hard to do quinoa so wrong that it is rendered inedible, unless you let it boil over or forget to take it off the heat after fifteen minutes.
Quinoa Nutrition Kicks Rice to the Curb
All that being true, I also love that quinoa’s nutritional profile beats rice hands down. Heck, brown rice kicks white rice’s butt all on its own, but quinoa is even better than brown rice.
The following table shows the calories and grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber for 1 cup of cooked quinoa, long-grain long-grain brown rice, and long-grain white rice as taken from the USDA nutrient database tonight.
If you are wondering how they measure up calorie for calorie, here is the comparison of the grams of protein and fiber in one hundred calories.
|g/100 cal||g/100 cal|
I also like the way quinoa stacks up with other nutrients. This table shows the milligrams of potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium in 1 cup of cooked quinoa, brown rice, and white rice.
Do I need to go on? The deeper you delve into quinoa’s nutrition, the better it looks against rice, whether brown or white.
Quinoa Is Expensive
The biggest thing that rice has going for it is price. I buy brown rice for eighty cents per pound at my local grocer. A pound of quinoa starts at more than four times that rate. Sometimes, I can’t afford it. I understand completely if you are in that position too. Many of the recipes I offer on this blog can be adapted to using white or brown rice instead of quinoa. In fact, I have prepared Chicken Marinara with brown rice as often as with quinoa.
When your budget does not include quinoa, I hope you are able to use brown rice. As evidenced above, a lot of nutrition is lost when rice is hulled. I hate waiting 45 minutes too, but consider how much more nutrition you and your family will get when you choose brown instead of white rice.
Of course, if your kids will not eat brown rice, keep quinoa in mind. Many kids who object to brown rice will tolerate quinoa instead. Quinoa may be the whole grain that helps them make healthier choices.
Or maybe the opposite will be true. In our family, NRK rejected brown rice until I started serving quinoa. Given the choice between quinoa and brown rice, he chose brown rice and we were able to stop buying white rice completely. Oddly enough, quinoa helped make brown rice a new norm around here.
What about you? Do you think quinoa nutrition is worth the extra cost for your family?
Let me know what you think in the comments.
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