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Botanical name: Chenopodium quinoa




Origin, areas of cultivation


Quinoa, also called "Inca gold", originated in South America, long before the time of the Incas. In Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru the Indian tribes grew quinoa as an important nutritious plant. The Incas even invested it with a religious meaning.

In the 16th century, following the Spanish conquest, cultivation of quinoa in South America was reduced and replaced by varieties of grain that were familiar to the Spaniards. The reason may have been that the Spaniards feared that cultivation of holy plants might hinder them from carrying out their mission to Christianize the Indians.

It was not until the 1960s that quinoa regained its importance and began to be grown again in quantity.

The first mention of quinoa in Europe was in 1550. It never played a large role as an economic plant, however, and was grown only in times of shortage during wars. But cultivation was rarely successful and was unable to gain acceptance following the war years.

Since the 1980s, the cultivation of quinoa has been the subject of research all over Europe. Quinoa is now becoming better known and more popular. Nonetheless, the regions that grow and supply it today are limited mainly to South America.


Worldwide, more than 100 varieties are known; their harvest begins in the middle of September. Dried or processed, quinoa is always available in German markets.

Appearance, taste, characteristics

Quinoa belongs to the family of goosefoot plants. Its appearance varies strongly with regard to height; colour of the plant, the inflorescence and the kernels; and the size of the kernels. The plant is usually greenish, the leaves yellow to red, according to stage of maturity. The kernels have many different colours, depending on the variety, and can be light and translucent, white, reddish, yellowish-brown or black. They are approximately 2 mm in diameter and resemble those of millet.

Mostly beige to white-yellow kernels are sold in Germany, but always mixed with a portion of darker kernels. Like buckwheat, the seed is botanically classed with the nuts. They taste slightly nutty and similar to rice.

Originating as it does in South America, quinoa is used to the climate there, with cold and dry periods. The plant can survive temperatures as low as -4°C. Growth is possible at elevations of up to 4200 m above sea level.


Quinoa contains large amounts of some minerals and trace elements that by far surpass those in wheat. Particularly iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium calcium and manganese are present in considerable amounts.

Lysine is also found in quinoa, at almost three times the concentration in wheat. In addition, there is a large portion of unsaturated fatty acids.

Quinoa contains no gluten and, like the other pseudo grains, is suitable for persons with coeliac disease.

100 g contain:

Energy (kcal)
Water (g)
Protein (g)
Fat (g)
Carbohydrates (g)
Fibre (g)
Potassium (mg)
Magnesium (mg)
Calcium /mg)
Iron (mg)
Phosphorus (mg)
Zinc (mg)
Manganese (mg)

Harmful substances

Unprocessed quinoa contains saponines to protect it against pests. These are bitter-tasting substances that can irritate the mucous membrane in the intestine, thereby allowing harmful substances and allergens to enter the blood via the intestinal wall.

The saponines must first be extracted from the quinoa that is marketed. To this end it is washed or polished. Nevertheless, a certain amount of saponines remain. For this reason, small children should not be given quinoa to eat. Since their digestive system is not yet mature, the effect of the saponines can be problematic. They can also be dangerous for adults with an intestinal inflammation. Therefore, it is recommended that quinoa be washed thoroughly before it is used in any case.

Saponine-free varieties of quinoa have meanwhile been bred, e.g. "Real" and "Sajawa".

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Quinoa is good as an accompaniment to main dishes, to prepare casseroles or pancakes, or added to cooked vegetables. It can be bought as whole kernels and in the form of flour, flakes or popcorn.

In South America, the leaves are eaten as a vegetable and as a salad, and roasted quinoa is used to make a coffee-like drink, carapuluque.





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