AskDefine | Define quinoa

User Contributed Dictionary




  • /ˈkin.wɑ/, /"ki:n.wA:/


  1. A goosefoot Chenopodium quinoa native to the Andes and cultivated for its edible seeds.
  2. The high-protein dried fruits and seeds of this plant, used as a food staple and ground into flour.

Extensive Definition

For the town with a similar name, see Quinua, Peru. "Quinoa" is also a title of a 1992 music album by Tangerine Dream.
Quinoa ( KEEN-wah or /ˈkinoʊə/ KEE-no-uh, Spanish quinua) is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) grown as a crop primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal as it is not a grass. Its leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is currently limited.


Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been an important food for 6,000 years. Its name is the Spanish spelling of the Quechua name. Quinoa is generally undemanding and altitude-hardy, so it can be easily cultivated in the Andes up to about 4,000 meters. Even so, it grows best in well-drained soils and requires a relatively long growing season. In eastern North America, it is susceptible to a leaf miner that may reduce crop success; this leaf miner also affects the common weed Chenopodium album, but C. album is much more resistant.
Similar Chenopodium species, such as Pitseed Goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) and Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) were grown and domesticated in North America as part of the Eastern Agricultural Complex before maize agriculture became popular. Fat Hen, which has a widespread distribution in the Northern Hemisphere, produces edible seeds and greens much like quinoa, but in lower quantities. Caution should be exercised in collecting this weed, however, because when growing in heavily fertilized agricultural fields it can accumulate dangerously high concentrations of nitrates.
Chenopods were also used in Europe as greens.

Wild distribution

Chenopodium quinoa (and a related species from Mexico, Chenopodium nuttalliae) is most familiar as a fully domesticated plant, but it was believed to have been domesticated in the Andes from wild populations of Chenopodium quinoa. There are non-cultivated quinoa plants (Chenopodium quinoa var. melanospermum) which grow in the same area where it is cultivated, which probably are related to the wild progenitors, but which could instead be the descendents of cultivated plants.

History and culture

The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as "chisaya mama" or "mother of all grains", and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using 'golden implements'. During the European conquest of South America quinoa was scorned by the Spanish colonists as "food for Indians", and even actively suppressed, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies.
Quinoa is considered by many Jews to be kosher for Passover, if properly processed.

Nutritional value

Quinoa was of great nutritional importance in pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, being secondary only to the potato, and followed in third place by maize. In contemporary times this crop has come to be highly appreciated for its nutritional value, as its protein content is very high (12%–18%). Unlike wheat or rice (which are low in lysine), quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans, making it an unusually complete food. It is a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron. Quinoa is gluten free and considered easy to digest. Because of all these characteristics, quinoa is being considered as a possible crop in NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration manned spaceflights.

Saponin content

In its natural state quinoa has a coating of bitter-tasting saponins, making it unpalatable. Most quinoa sold commercially in North America has been processed to remove this coating. Some have speculated this bitter coating may have caused the Europeans who first encountered quinoa to reject it as a food source, since they adopted other indigenous food plants of the Americas like maize and potatoes. However, this bitterness has beneficial effects during cultivation, as the plant is unpopular with birds and thus requires minimal protection. There have been attempts to lower the saponin content of quinoa through selective breeding in order to produce sweeter, more palatable varieties. However, when new varieties were introduced by agronomists to native growers in the high plateau, the native growers rejected the new varieties, despite their 'magnificent' yields. Because the seeds no longer had a bitter coating, birds had consumed the entire crop after just one season.
The saponins in quinoa can be mildly toxic, as can be the oxalic acid in the leaves of all the chenopodium family. However, the risks associated with quinoa are minimal, provided it is properly prepared and leaves are not eaten to excess.


Quinoa has a light, fluffy texture when cooked, and its mild, slightly nutty flavor makes it an alternative to white rice or couscous.
The first step in preparing quinoa is to remove the saponins, a process that requires soaking the grain in water for a few hours, then changing the water and resoaking again, or rinsing it in ample running water either in a fine strainer or in cheesecloth. Boxed quinoa typically has been pre-rinsed for convenience.
A common cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups of water to a boil with one cup of grain, covering at a low simmer and cooking for 14–18 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). Alternatively, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa. To that end, one volume of quinoa should be combined with two volumes of water.
Vegetables and seasonings can also be added to make a wide range of dishes. Chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking, adding flavour. It is also suited to vegetable pilafs, complementing bitter greens like kale.
Quinoa can serve as a high-protein breakfast food mixed with honey, almonds, or berries; it is also sold as a dry product, much like corn flakes.
Quinoa flour can be used in wheat-based and gluten-free baking. For the latter, it can be combined with sorghum flour, tapioca, and potato starch to create a nutritious gluten-free baking mix. A suggested mix is three parts quinoa flour, three parts sorghum flour, two parts potato starch, and one part tapioca starch. Quinoa flour can be used as a filling for chocolate.
Lastly, quinoa may be germinated in its raw form to boost its nutritional value. Germination activates its natural enzymes and multiplies its vitamin content. In fact, quinoa has a notably short germination period: only 2-4 hours resting in a glass of clean water is enough to make it sprout and release gases, as opposed to, e.g., 12 hours overnight with wheat. This process, besides its nutritional enhancements, softens the grains, making them suitable to be added to salads and other cold foods.


This crop is known as "quinoa" in English and is pronounced with the stress on either the first syllable (/'kiːn.wɑː/) or the second (/kɪ.'nəʊ.ə/). In Spanish, the spelling and pronunciation vary by region. The accent may be on the first syllable and is usually spelled quinua (/'ki.nwa/), with quínoa (/' being a variant, or on the second syllable quinoa (/ki.'no.a/). The name ultimately comes from the Quechua kinua or kinoa. There are multiple other native names in South America:
  • Quechua: ayara, kiuna, kuchikinwa, achita, kinua, kinoa, chisaya mama
  • Aymara: supha, jopa, jupha, juira, ära, qallapi, vocali
  • Chibchan: suba, pasca
  • Mapudungun: dawe, sawe


External links

quinoa in Aymara: Jiwra
quinoa in Catalan: Quinoa
quinoa in Czech: Merlík čilský
quinoa in Danish: Quinoa
quinoa in German: Quinoa
quinoa in Modern Greek (1453-): Κινόα
quinoa in Spanish: Chenopodium quinoa
quinoa in Esperanto: Kvinoo
quinoa in Basque: Kinoa
quinoa in French: Quinoa
quinoa in Indonesian: Kinoa
quinoa in Italian: Chenopodium quinoa
quinoa in Hebrew: קינואה
quinoa in Lithuanian: Bolivinė balanda
quinoa in Japanese: キヌア
quinoa in Norwegian: Quinoa
quinoa in Norwegian Nynorsk: Perumelde
quinoa in Polish: Komosa ryżowa
quinoa in Portuguese: Quinoa
quinoa in Quechua: Kinwa
quinoa in Russian: Квиноа
quinoa in Finnish: Kvinoa
quinoa in Swedish: Mjölmålla
quinoa in Chinese: 藜麥
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