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Pseudocereals- What are they?

Pseudocereals are tiny, grain-like seeds (fruits) of dicotyledonous plant species employed much like cereals in the food preparations.

There is a renewed interest in the cultivation of super-grain crops as a potential source of special energy foods, particularly in people who are allergic to staple cereals like wheat.

The fact that pseudocereals have a higher nutritional value and can be employed in a way similar to cereals, they can, therefore, supplement or may completely replace common cereal grains (rice, corn, or wheat) as staple food sources.

Scientifically, all pseudocereals are non-grass plant produce. They are small grain-like seeds that resemble in function and composition to those of the true cereals. Some of the common pseudocereals in use today are:

amaranth grains
chia seeds
Chia seeds

quinoa seeds

Pitseed goosefoot

How are pseudocereals structurally different from cereal grains?

  1. Pseudo-cereals are closely related to legume plants and produce dry fruits which are labeled in different terms as seeds, achenes, and grains.

  2. Pseudo-cereals are dicotyledonous, whereas common cereal crops like wheat are monocotyledonous.

  3. Being members of the legume family of plants, their grains compose proportionately more bran fraction than that in cereals.

  4. Greens of pseudocereals are also used as nutritive leafy vegetables. However, grass cereal foliage contains higher non-starch polysaccharides, and therefore, unsuitable for use in humans.

Health benefits of Pseudocereals

    Although pseudocereals possess similar calorific value as cereal grains, they carry higher nutritional value than cereal grains in terms of quality of amino acid (protein) composition, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

  1. Pseudocereals are made up of a higher percentage of bran fraction to endosperm than common cereals. Bran composes chiefly of fiber, protein, and unsaturated fatty acids.

  2. Pseudocereals do not contain gluten protein unlike in cereal grains like wheat, barley, etc. For the same reason, they are the best alternatives for incorporation into the diet for celiac disease patients.

  3. The protein composition of pseudocereals varies from 13-17%; almost the same as that in cereals. The nutritional value of pseudocereals is mainly connected to their proteins which are an important group of biomacromolecules involved in physiological functions.

  4. Pseudocereals compose higher proportions of essential amino acids than cereal grains. Lysine, leucine, tryptophan, etc are among the 10 essential amino acids, which cannot be synthesized in humans and hence must be provided in the diet.

  5. Studies suggest that pseudocereal´s protein has high bioavailability, high protein efficiency ratio (PER), and high apparent digestibility. Quinoa's protein quality improved by pre-washing to remove saponin.

  6. Carbohydrates in these grains chiefly comes from complex starch like amylopectin. Besides, the amylose content in them is lower than that in other cereal starches. Hence, pseudo-cereals can be beneficial staples even in diabetics.

  7. The lipid content of quinoa and amaranth is between 2 and 3 times higher than in other cereals such as maize and wheat.

  8. They compose adequate essential fatty acids like α-linolenic acid (ALA) which are found helpful in the prevention of many degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, osteoporosis, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

  9. The seeds are also an abundant source of polyphenolic flavonoids. The main polyphenolic antioxidants present in them are kaempferol and quercetin glycosides.

  10. Being the members of the legume family, they brim with excellent concentrations of vitamin-E (α-tocopherol). Vitamin E acts as a natural defense against lipid oxidation, fights against free radicals, and prevents cell damage and injury.

  11. The pseudo-grains are indeed an excellent source of the B-complex group of vitamins such as folates (B9), pyridoxine, thiamin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid.

  12. Besides, they are endowed with high concentrations of minerals like calcium, iron, copper, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. These minerals play a vital role in many metabolic functions in humans. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. The human body uses manganese as a cofactor for the potent antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.

Selection and storage

Generally, the application of chemical fertilizers and insecticides on pseudocereal crops is less intense in contrast to cereal crops. However, try to buy organic certified grains from authentic agencies.

Gains like amaranth have a long shelf-life and stay well for several months and sometimes for years when stored adequately in a cool, dry place, away from humid environments.

If you are buying flour, purchase a freshly milled product that comes in air-tight bins and packages.

Use of pseudo-cereals in cooking

Buckwheat, Amaranth, and quinoa grains have been used in a wide variety of foods. From the whole grain, tasteful soups, sweets, beverages, sauces, porridges, and soufflés can be prepared; boiled grains can be used like rice in pilaf, porridge, risotto, etc.

Safety profile

  1. rutin (quercetin rutinoside) in small quantities in buckwheats. Rutin has been found to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-platelet aggregation (blood thinner) functions in experimental models and may interact with routine medications.

  2. Unpolished (unwashed) quinoa seed contains saponin, a triterpenoid compound, in its outer husk. Amaranth contains a relatively small amount of this substance, while Kaniwa does not. Saponin has a bitter soap-like taste, which when consumed, might result in stomach pain, flatulence, and laxative diarrhea. (Medical disclaimer).

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