Chenopodium quinoa


Chenopodium quinoa

Family: Chenopodiaceae

Native to the Andes, quinoa, which is pronounced keen-WAH or keen-O-ah, is an annual plant that can grow to 9 feet in height depending on genetics and the growing conditions.1 Different varieties produce white, red, or black seeds. The seeds are washed thoroughly and cooked whole or ground to produce a meal for cooking.1,2 Nearly 5000 years ago, the Incas began cultivating and harvesting quinoa for the nutritional quality of its seeds. Today quinoa is cultivated widely in Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Columbia, and Ecuador as well as Canada and Colorado.1,2 This species of the genus Chenopodium, which is Greek for goosefoot and refers to the leaf shape, favors cooler arid climates and higher elevations ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level.2

History and Cultural Significance

Quinoa is known by the Inca Indians as "the mother of grains".2 The ancient Inca used the seeds of this plant as one of their chief sources of nutrition.2 Primarily ground seeds were used as flour for baking breads and cakes. The leaves were also incorporated into soups and stews.

Recent nutritional analysis shows that quinoa is an excellent source of protein as well as an alternative source of calcium, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins such as B6, niacin, and thiamin.3 The World Health Organization compared the nutritional quality of quinoa's protein to that of milk.3

Externally, quinoa has been mixed with water and converted into a plaster for covering wounds and bruises, which is said to prevent infection and aid in wound healing.1 The seeds of the quinoa are coated in a natural insect and animal repellent called saponin; this bitter covering has to be removed prior to eating the seed. The ancient Incas used the water left over after washing the quinoa as a natural detergent for cleaning their clothing.2

Modern Research

A recent study conducted in Ecuador showed that malnourished children supplemented with quinoa produced more insulin-like growth factor than children who were fed their regular diet.4 Insulin-like growth factor is commonly used as a measure of nutritional status in children as it is suppressed during periods of protein deficiency and malnourishment.4 Previous research indicated that quinoa may be easier to digest as an infant food than other commercial products produced from either soybeans or milk.4

Future Outlook

Widespread cultivation of quinoa has been hampered by the specific growing conditions required by the plant, that is, short day lengths and cool temperatures.5 In 1988 the North American Quinoa Producers Association was started by a group of farmers in Colorado to optimize the production of quinoa in the area.4 At the time, the price of production fell from $1.00/lb to about $0.35/lb.4 A pound of quinoa can be sold by retailers on the west coast for almost ten times that price.4 As the interest in quinoa grows, this market should continue to expand.


1 Bermejo JEH and Leon J. Quinoa (Chenopodium quince). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1994. Available at Accessed April 11, 2005.

2 Railey K. Whole Grains: Quinoa from the Andes. Chet Day¡¦s Health and Beyond. Available at: Accessed April 11, 2005.

3 Quinoa. Available at:,1523,74,00.html. Accessed April 11, 2005.

4 Ruales J, Grijalva Y, Lopez-Jaramillo P, and Nair BM. The nutritional quality of an infant food from quinoa and its effect on the plasma level of insulin-like growth factor-1 in undernourished children. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2002; 53:143-154.

5 Oelke EA, et al. Quinoa. Alternative Field Crops Manual. The University of Minnesota. Available at: Accessed April 18, 2005.

Info links over quinoa

Goosefoot, Huauzontle, Inca wheat, Pigweed, Quihuicha, Quinoa,

Quinoa—Duane L. Johnson and Sarah M. Ward

New Grains and Pseudograins—Duane L. Johnson

Diversifying U.S. Crop Production—Jules Janick, Melvin G. Blase, Duane L. Johnson, Gary D. Jolliff, and Robert L. Myers

Alternative Crops Research in Virginia—Harbans L. Bhardwaj, Andy Hankins, Tadesse Mebrahtu, Jimmy Mullins, Muddappa Rangappa, Ozzie Abaye, and Gregory E. Welbaum

Alternate Crops for Dryland Production Systems in Northern Idaho—Kenneth D. Kephart, Glen A. Murray, and Dick L. Auld

New Crops In The UK: From Concept to Bottom Line Profits—Francis H. Nicholls

Quinoa: A Potential New Oil Crop—Michael J. Koziol

Blue Corn and Quinoa: New Grain for the Southwest

Quinoa: Candidate Crop for NASA's Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems—Greg Schlick and David L. Bubenheim

Preliminary Agronomic Evaluation of New Crops for North Dakota—Marisol T. Berti and A.A. Schneiter

Quinoa: Alternative Field Crops Manual, University of Wisconson Cooperative Extension Service, University of Minnesota Extension Service, Center for Alternative Plant & Animal Products

Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective—J.E. Hernándo Bermejo and J. León (eds.)

New Crops for Canadian Agriculture—Ernest Small

Quinoa Saponins: Concentration and Composition Analysis—José Bernardo Solíz-Guerrero, Diana Jasso de Rodríguez, Raúl Rodríguez-García, José Luis Angulo-Sánchez, and Guadalupe Méndez-Padilla

Quinoa can be found in Lost Crops of the Incas from National Academy Press

Quinoa facts from Waltonfeeds

Chenopodiums A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve