Quinoa

Quinoa is a wholesome grain that has been consumed and valued since Incan times due to its great nutritional benefits. Discover more about its history and uses here.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Quinoa, quinua, keenwa
  • Scientific nameChenopodium quinoa
  • Geographic distributionAndean regions
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionSouth America
  • Main producer(s)Bolivia, Peru
  • Main Economic UseFood industry
Medicinal and Nutritional Information
  • Medicinal actionHypoglycemic, Nutritious
  • Key constituentsAmino acids
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Buying
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores
Growing
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsSeeds
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLoamy sand
  • Soil pH6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatMountain regions, Subtropical regions
  • Planting timeSpring
  • Potential insect pestsEarthworms
  • Potential diseasesMildew
Quinoa

Quinoa is one of the oldest crops to have been domesticated by Andean populations, and researchers believe it was first cultivated as a food crop in the Andean region of South America approximately 3,000 years ago. The word quinua translates to "mother of all grains" from Quechua, one of the most widely-spoken Andean languages. In modern times, quinoa has become so instrumental on the world stage that the United Nations declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionHypoglycemic, Nutritious
  • Key constituentsAmino acids
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe
Quinoa

Health Benefits of Quinoa

Quinoa is a "medicinal food" that - thanks in part to its nutrient diversity - has several health-conferring properties, including:

  • Providing nutrition to celiac patients. Because quinoa is gluten free, it is a good source of protein and energy for those with celiac disease.

  • Reducing risk of metabolic disorders. Quinoa active compounds are believed to help reduce cholesterol levels, as well as lower blood pressure and blood sugar. The soluble fiber in quinoa may play a role in reducing heart disease.

Additionally, the fiber in quinoa can help in stool formation and encourage bowel movements, thus relieving constipation. Quinoa is also naturally low in sodium, which make it a good choice for everyone, especially people with high blood pressure and other diseases where consuming too much sodium is a concern.

How It Works

Quinoa's medicinal uses stem from its brilliant nutritional profile. It was first identified for its high protein content, which is regarded as invaluable by many who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. In fact, quinoa contains the highest amino acid concentration of any whole grain, and it even has more arginine than some cuts of red meat. It also has antioxidant polyphenols.

In addition, quinoa contains large amounts of magnesium, iron, phosphorus, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and dietary fiber, which have led to its recognition as a complete food.

Cautions

Quinoa is a safe food that rarely provokes allergies or gastrointestinal comfort. Because quinoa grains contain a large amount of saponin, however, it is important that they be rinsed thoroughly before being cooked or added to any dish in order to avoid the mildly irritating effects of the compound.

How to Consume Quinoa

Foods

Main preparations: Cooked (boiled)

Quinoa is consumed cooked in meals or as a side for its outstanding nutritional value. The three main types of quinoa - white, red, and black - differ slightly in their nutrient profile and culinary applications.

  • White quinoa. White seeds are the most versatile and generally the least expensive variety of quinoa. Like their colored counterparts, they are a complete protein and rich in dietary fiber. White quinoa is used as an alternative to rice, in stews and broths, and even in protein smoothies.

  • Red quinoa. Red seeds tend to be fluffier when cooked than black ones. They contain betacyanin, the antioxidant that gives them their hue, which adds a splash of color to dishes.

  • Black quinoa. Black quinoa has the strongest antioxidant action of the three main cultivated varieties of quinoa. It also contains the most vitamin E and carotenoids compared to the other colors. Black seeds have a less soft texture and are often used in salads.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores

Processed white quinoa is nowadays easy to find in most grocery stores or local markets around the world. It is usually sold with some mild pre-processing in order to remove the outer shell and eliminate the need to soak and rinse it at home. In addition, the rising demand has favored the appearance of other forms of quinoa, including flakes, flour, and cereal mixes.

Other varieties of quinoa, such as red or black quinoa, are usually available at organic markets, health stores, or specialized gourmet retailers. The nutritional quality of these grains varies from brand to brand and even geographically: some countries, such as Germany, are imposing regulations to ensure a minimum protein percentage in their quinoa imports.

Liquid extracts of quinoa and protein powders containing the grain are available through online retailers.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsSeeds
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLoamy sand
  • Soil pH6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatMountain regions, Subtropical regions
  • Planting timeSpring
  • Potential insect pestsEarthworms
  • Potential diseasesMildew

Quinoa cultivation seems moderately undemanding at first sight, but it has not yet been successfully adapted to many regions of the world.

  • It is best to grow quinoa in sandy, well-drained soils.

  • The best yields of quinoa are achieved with a neutral soil pH (around 7.0), it can survive within a pH range of 4.5 – 8.5 in some cases.

  • The plant needs large amounts of nitrogen in order to produce grains, so it is important to add enough organic matter throughout its growth.

  • In order to allow the grains to develop properly, quinoa should be kept at 64 - 77°F (18 - 25°C), but it can survive temperatures as low as 30°F (-1°C) and as high as 95°F (35°C), as well as altitudes of up to 14,000 feet (4,000 m) above sea level.

  • Quinoa should be planted in the spring so that ambient temperatures gradually increase throughout the growing season.

  • The seeds are easily stunted if stored at temperatures over 50°F (10°C).

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Native to Andean region of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, in South America, quinoa plants grow up to 3.3 - 6.6 feet (1 - 2 m) tall, and flowers range in color from yellow to violet and every shade in between. Their tiny grains measure approximately 0.08 inches (2 mm) in diameter and have a light-colored ring around their circumferences.

  • Classification
    Quinoa, or Chenopodium quinoa, is a member of the Amaranthaceae family, which contains 2,500 species spread out over 180 genera. This family includes many flowering plants, and though it is a widespread family, most of its members are found in tropical areas. It contains other well-known and economically-important herbs, such as spinach and beet.
  • Varieties and Cultivars of Quinoa
    Over the course of history, dozens of different varieties of quinoa have developed across the Andean region. However, during the centuries in which the crop suffered from heavy discrimination and low economic value, many of these varieties were lost or became endangered. In modern times, scientists have gone to great lengths to find and preserve these threatened varieties. However, the three most commonly cultivated and sold around the world remain black, red, and white quinoa. Of these three, white quinoa is the most common kind, and it is often traded under the name quinoa.

Historical Information

There are also archeological traces of quinoa being used up to 7,000 years ago, though it was most likely only gathered in the wild during this time. In the Inca culture quinoa was considered a sacred crop, to the point that it was referred to as chisaya mama, which literally means "mother of all grains."

Quinoa was discovered by Europeans during the Spanish conquest, but its religious significance appeared threatening to colonial authorities, leading to a suppression of the crop. However, during the second half of the 20th century, the crop was rediscovered by North American and European markets, and from there, its importance spread throughout the world.

Economic Data

Bolivia is currently the top producer of quinoa, responsible for 65% of the world's annual production. The second largest producer is Peru, followed by Ecuador. The popularity of quinoa is rising throughout the world, with demand tripling between the years 2006 and 2012. The average crop value of quinoa in 2011 was $3,115 USD per ton, and 80,000 metric tons were produced by Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador that year. Thanks to 2013 being declared International Year of Quinoa, the grain's worldwide exposure has greatly increased, the demand and price also rising accordingly.

Other Uses

Quinoa can act as an insect repellent, and some varieties are kept as ornamental herbs. In addition, its high saponin content has been used recently to manufacture natural cosmetics, shampoos, and soaps. Quinoa is sometimes included in livestock and bird feed.

Bibliography

  • USDA Plants Database, Quinoa: A Plant with a Lot of Potential
  • FAOSTAT, Quinoa
  • Alternative Field Crops Manual, Quinoa
  • American Journal of Gastroenterology, Gastrointestinal effects of eating quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) in celiac patients, 2014
  • Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): composition, chemistry, nutritional, and functional properties, 2009
  • Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, Effect of quinoa seeds (Chenopodium quinoa) in diet on some biochemical parameters and essential elements in blood of high fructose-fed rats, 2010
  • Food Chemistry, Characterisation of phenolics, betanins and antioxidant activities in seeds of three quinoa genotypes, 2015 | Characterisation of fatty acid, carotenoid, tocopherol compositions and antioxidant activities in seeds of three quinoa genotypes, 2015

DISCLAIMER: The information provided is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician. Information contained in HerbaZest.com is based on pharmacological records, scientific research, traditional knowledge and historical data, both old and modern. HerbaZest.com cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the information provided.