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Quinoa ~ Botanical Name: Chenopodium quinoa

QuinoaQuinoa (pronounced keen-wa or kee-noo-ah) is not a true cereal grain, but rather the botanical fruit of an herb plant. It is however treated as a grain in cooking. The grains are small yellow flattened spheres, approximately 1.5 to 2 mm in diameter. When cooked, the germ coils into a small "tail" that lends a pleasant crunch. The leaves of the plant can also be eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach.

One of the world's most perfect foods, it has been consumed for thousands of years in South America. Its small nutritious seeds resemble millet and is very versatile to a variety of cooking styles, inviting seasonings from mild to wild. Quinoa seeds are naturally coated with a bitter-tasting saponin that protects it from birds and insects, this is removed during processing.

Quinoa flour, ground from whole seeds, has a delicate nutty flavour. A gluten-free product, it is suitable for anyone afflicted by wheat allergies. Quinoa can be eaten as hot breakfast cereal; an infant cereal; a rice replacement; a nutritional thickener for soups, chilli and stew; in salads, casseroles and desserts; and more.

The plant is a broad-leafed, annual herb that grows wild and which has also been cultivated for thousands of years in the Andes. When mature, this tall plant is topped off with large plume-like seed heads that range in colour from vivid red, orange or yellow to black or white. Before being eaten, quinoa seeds must be processed to remove their bitter coating of saponin. After washing or dry polishing, the ready-to-cook seeds are white or beige in colour.

Quinoa's spinach-like leaves and its seeds are highly nutritious. The leaves, which unfortunately seldom reach the ‘modern’ consumer, may be eaten raw in salads or cooked like spinach. They are high in Vitamin A. The seeds that ate now readily available are rich in protein, high in fibre, and particularly rich in the amino acid Lysine.

The ‘seeds’ are also good sources of calcium, phosphorus and vitamins B and E. There are several varieties of quinoa available in the shops, which range in colour from dark brown to near white. The latter varieties are most common and are considered superior. If storage beyond 3-4 weeks is required it should be stored in the refrigerator or even the freezer.

Once cooked, quinoa is delicious and extremely versatile; it may be used in the place of almost any other grain, including rice, to make everything from appetisers to desserts to pasta. You can even substitute it in your favourite recipe for rice pudding!

But where does this plant originate? It was one of the most sacred foods of the ancient Incas of South America, a plant so nourishing, delicious and vital, they called it chesiya mama; the ‘mother grain’. Each year the Incan emperor so it is said would, using a golden spade plant the first quinoa seeds of the season. At the solstice, priests bearing golden vessels filled with quinoa made offerings to Inti; the sun.

How come it is only just becoming available now? Why then unlike the other Inca "wonder foods" maize and potatoes, so little known outside of South America? This question has never really been answered, but one theory is that the Spaniards who carried maize and potatoes back to Europe in the sixteenth century may have tasted quinoa that had not been properly processed and would have been bitter to the palate and therefore failed to realise its potential.

Fortunately though, the skilful farmers of the Andes continued to cultivate it and, thus, presented this ancient "supergrain" for the modern world. Much of the credit for its introduction to the ‘modern world’ goes to the late Dave Cusack, a Colorado native. In 1984, Cusack and two partners began to import quinoa from South America.

Nutritional Information for Quinoa (Amount: 1/2 cup/ 80gm : dry)

Basic Information

Calories : 374
Protein : 13 grams
Carbohydrates : 69 grams
Fat : 6 grams
Dietary Fibre : unknown
Cholesterol : 0 mg
Sodium : 21 mg


Vitamin B6 : 0.2 mg
Vitamin B12 : 0 mg
Folacin : 49 mg
Niacin : 3 mg
Riboflavin : 0.4 mg
Thiamin : 0.2 mg


Copper : 0.8 mg
Iron : 9 mg
Magnesium : 210 mg
Manganese : 2.3 mg
Phosphorus : 410 mg
Potassium : 740 mg
Zinc : 3 mg

Fat Composition

Saturated Fat : less than 1 gram


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