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.
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.
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!