Chef Essig's Featured Item of the Week

Welcome Back... We hope you had a great Spring Break!

March is National Nutrition Month, and Dining Services would like to highlight a very important component to proper nutrition, diet, and health… GRAINS!

Grains are a good source of fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals... and are also naturally low in fat. Eating a diet high in fiber has many health benefits including lowering the risk of heart disease, along with the possible reduction of certaiwholegrainsn types of cancers. Grains are divided into two groups: whole and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel and are really just grains that haven't been refined. Refined grains have been modified from their natural state.

You may be familiar with whole grains such as bulgar wheat, millet, whole corn meal, wild rice, and oatmeal. UNC Dining Services offers a variety of whole grains you may not be as familiar with. Here are a couple examples of different whole grains that can be an exciting addition to your next meal.


Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been consumed for over 5,000 years, yet it is fairly new to the American table. It has been called the “mother grain” aquinoas it was a staple of the ancient Inca diet.

Today, quinoa’s new nickname is “super food” because it contains more protein than any other grain. It’s considered a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids and is high in lysine, methionine, and cystine. Quinoa is lower in carbohydrates than most grains and is a well balanced source of vital nutrients. High in calcium and iron, this little bead-shaped grain packs super nutrition into a small package.

Quinoa cooks just like rice, but in about half the time. This is a very versatile grain... it can be used in a wide variety of ways. By itself or complemented with other foods, quinoa adapts itself nicely to many different dishes.

  • Toss quinoa with vegetables.
  • Add it to salads.
  • Add a little bit to soup, and it can take the place of barley.
  • Use quinoa as a replacement for rice.
  • Toss it together with other grains.

Quinoa's flavor is rather neutral, leaving plenty of room to season and use in various ways. Most quinoa you would find in the grocery store has already been cleaquinoaned, but it never hurts to rinse them before cooking.

There are over 1,800 varieties of quinoa. The first agricultural experimentation in the United States actually took place in 1982 right here in Colorado. The Quinoa Corporation (stationed in Boulder at the time) brought some of the first seeds to the US from Peru.

Quinoa thrives with low rainfall, high altitudes, thin/cold air, hot sun, subfreezing temperatures, and even poor, sandy, alkaline soil... making it a perfect crop to grow in Colorado! There are currently five farms in Colorado growing quinoa as a commercial crop. UNC Dining Services supports Colorado Agriculture and is a Colorado Proud member.


Amaranth has a slightly sweet and nutty/toasty flavor. It is a tiny grain of broadleaf plants (similar to sunflowers) that gamaranthrow five to seven feet tall. Amaranth can be found in the high mountain regions of Colorado as well as the plains regions. Amaranth is very adaptable to grow anywhere… including my garden as I learned last year after taking a class on edible wild plants. I also learned that the tall weeds that take over my garden by the end of the summer are actually very useful and productive plants.

This little “wonder grain” was highly revered by the Aztecs and was used to make tortillas long before corn was cultivated. The Spanish conquistadors banished many things sacred to the Aztecs, including amaranth because it was used in ceremonies and was a major food source.amaranth

Regaining popularity in recent years due to its impressive nutritional content, amaranth is often seen in the form of flour in gluten-free items and as a whole grain. This grain is perfect for those adhering to a gluten-free diet, as these nutrients can be difficult to obtain when excluding other cereal grains. Recent studies have even linked amaranth to reduction in cholesterol.

We hope you enjoy trying something just as much as we enjoy offering you new things to try. Incorporate quinoa & amaranth into your menu today!

Look for other healthy grain selections offered in the dining rooms this semester, and don’t forget to look at the weekly menus on our website often to find out what other fabulous menu items await you this week!

Happy Dining!
Executive Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA

Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA

Want to know what's being served in the dining rooms? Call the FoodLine (970.351.FOOD) for daily menus or look at our weekly menus online. Not signed up for the Faculty/Staff Payroll Deduction program yet? Learn more about the program here.