Kitchen Quick Tip: Quinoa

oxalic acid
Image Credit: Smokefood/PD.

Oxalic acid doesn’t sound any more frightening than the acetic acid that gives that special tang to vinegar. Found in many of our favorite edible plants–spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, peanuts, and quinoa–oxalic acid is a naturally occurring, though unnecessary, chemical that we usually process and eliminate from our bodies. If it’s natural and a component in some of the tastiest grains, legumes, and vegetables I eat, why did I spend hours poring over internet research about the risks of oxalic acid?

One word: quinoa.

south america quinoa
Image credit: Bioversity International via Flickr.

Like many Americans, I’m a fan of this tiny seed from central and south America. It contains concentrated amounts of antioxidants and flavonoids, not to mention anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which is to say quinoa is hella good for you. As a mostly vegetarian, quinoa serves as a complete protein in otherwise veggie-centric recipes. Because it often travels so far before it reaches my plate, I tend to treat quinoa meals as a special occasion.

Little did I know that the oxalic acid in quinoa can wreak havoc on the digestive tracts of those with a sensitivity to the acid. I know I mentioned my own adventures with the unsettled gut in my last post, but surprisingly I’m not sensitive to quinoa’s oxalic acid. Unfortunately, my favorite vegetarian partner-in-crime, Cameron, does battle with quinoa every time I prepare it. Since he’s also the taste-tester for all the recipes I try, I like to keep him happy.

quinoa cleaning
Image credit: Mark Bristow.

The secret to quinoa digestive harmony is simple: RINSE the seeds before you cook with them. Seems like a no-brainer, right? That is, until you realize how tiny those little quinoa are. They’re not exactly the easiest “grain” to rinse for two minutes under running water. Cameron and I invested in a tight mesh strainer for grain cleaning, and it’s made all the difference.

With a thorough rinsing, much of the oxalic acid that coats quinoa’s hull washes away, which helps later when your body sets to work processing the excellent vitamins and nutrients in the seed. Hopefully I haven’t scared you away from this most excellent of foods. If you’re itching for a chance to try out this tip, check out the quinoa dish featured on this blog last February. Happy and healthy eating!

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna says:

    Such a great tip! You’re full of wisdom as always, G.

  2. Monet says:

    Ah quinoa…such a great grain. We need to be eating it more. Thanks for sharing, sweet friend.

  3. Great recipe suggestion.

    1. Gwynne says:

      Thanks, travelerlynne! Hope you’re doing well.

  4. Jody and Ken says:

    This past week people have been sending me links to stories about the economic havoc wreaked in farming communities sourcing quinoa (too expensive/valuable for the locals to eat now). I didn’t know about the oxalic acid wrinkle, although I do know that it (ox. acid) inhibits calcium absorption–and can contribute to kidney stones through the production of calcium oxalate. Too many repercussions to consider for one simple whole grain. Ken

    1. gwynnem says:

      You make a great point, Ken. It’s amazing how demand of a product can start out contributing to an economy only to mess it about because of exploitation. I’ve been reading about several areas of the U.S. that are beginning to cultivate quinoa in a more sustainable manner, which may be an alternative way to enjoy the grain without all the long-term repercussions of outsourcing production to south America.

  5. Lesley says:

    Such a great tip! Many people don’t realize quinoa should be rinsed thoroughly. Even now, when “pre-rinsed” quinoa is more easily found in stores, I still rinse it well.
    And I’ve also read the stories about quinoa becoming so popular now that the locals who pick it can no longer afford to eat it. Very sad.

    1. gwynnem says:

      I just made a quinoa dish last night, and I gave it a good rinse just in case!

      That’s truly terrible that the folks who cultivate a food can’t afford to eat it. Maybe the move to growing this product domestically in the States will lower the prices for the Central and South American farmers?

      1. Lesley says:

        I hope and pray that’s the case, though I guess only time will tell. It’s the big companies that are using it in chips and other packaged foods that are draining the supply, I’m sure. It’s so nutritious and delicious, I’ll admit I’d have a hard time cutting it out now.

  6. Great tip. Just like we pre-rince rice, we should pre-rinse other grains as well.

  7. We eat loads of quinoa and I honestly had no idea about the oxalic acid in it. I’ve been adding a little red quinoa for some variety. Even though none of has issue with the grain…I’ll start rinsing 🙂

  8. Sophie33 says:

    I love quinoa a lot. It is spo verstaile to use & I use it a lot in my cooking & baking too. I also love whole quinoa flakes for in my breakfasts, hot or cold! Or into crumbles!

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