Quinoa was first described in 1797 by Carl Ludwig Willdenow, a German botanist and pharmacist. It was first cultivated in the area around Lake Titicaca in the South American Andes Mountains. Archeological evidence shows that quinoa was grown 5000 years ago in Peru, Bolivia and northern Chile. Quinoa was a very important crop for Andean cultures in these areas and also in present day Columbia and Bolivia. It was a staple food for the Incas and is still a food source for the current indigenous people living in these regions. Quinoa was a sacred crop for the Incas; they called it the “mother” of all grains, and the Incan emperor would plant the first quinoa seeds every year in a ceremony.
Quinoa is a very stress-tolerant plant and can be grown in diverse soil types and under harsher conditions where more traditional crops would not grow. This plant prefers cooler temperature, shorter days, and can tolerate mild frost. It is resistant to cold, salt and drought. Quinoa plants are broad-leafed and grow to be 3 to 9 feet tall. The seed heads can be many different colors like red, purple, orange, green black or yellow while the stalks are magenta.
When Spanish explorers arrived in the Andes Mountain region in the 1500s, they documented the widespread cultivation of quinoa. The Spanish tried to destroy the Incan culture by destroying many of the quinoa fields. They banned the cultivation of quinoa and replaced it with mainly corn and wheat. Some Europeans tried to take quinoa seeds to Europe; however, the seeds died during the journey and couldn’t germinate. This may have been due to the high humidity of the sea voyage. As a result, quinoa production declined during the next few centuries.
In the 1970s, quinoa experienced a resurgence along with a celebration of the native cultures that first cultivated it. In 1984, quinoa began to be exported to the US. At this point in time, processing quinoa was done by hand and the bitter tasting and mildly toxic coating of saponins concentrated on the seeds as the quinoa plant’s natural protection from pests was not always sufficiently removed. Besides tasting bitter the saponins can also irritate the digestive track. (Rinsing the quinoa removes the saponins.) Due to being threshed and winnowed by hand, the processed quinoa in the 1980s could also contain small rocks. Communities that produced quinoa sought to learn about processing machinery in Peru and Brazil and attempted to build quinoa processing equipment based on a barley hulling machine. In the 1990s, the United Nations financed the construction of processing plants. In 2005, the US and Denmark helped develop new technologies to improve the efficiency and quality of quinoa processing.
Quinoa is part of the goosefoot family which also includes spinach, swiss chard, and beets. The quinoa leaves can be eaten like spinach, and its seeds can be used in the same way as grains. Quinoa is actually a seed and not a grain, but it is considered to be a pseudo cereal grain since its nutritional makeup is so similar to a grain. Quinoa can be used in place of grains and is actually a healthier option than typical grains since it is rich in fiber, B vitamins, many minerals, polyunsaturated fats, contains more protein than grains (1 cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein compared to 5 grams in 1 cup of cooked long-grain brown rice) and is gluten-free. In addition, quinoa also has a better distribution of essential amino acids compared to grains. Because of its high nutrient content, the United Nations has recognized quinoa as an effective tool in the fight against world hunger and malnutrition. The year 2013 was declared the international year of quinoa, a year of recognizing and celebrating quinoa and the indigenous communities that produce it.
Quinoa is easy to cook and will be ready in 15-20 minutes compared to about 45 minutes for cooking brown rice or barley. For more information on how to cook quinoa, please refer to the “How to Cook Quinoa” recipe in the recipe section of the website.
Now that you know more about quinoa, you’re probably wondering “What can I do with quinoa?”. Here are some easy ideas:
Information compiled from:
Ancient Grains https://www.ancientgrains.com/quinoa-history-and-origin/
GoGo Quinoa https://www.gogoquinoa.com/a-brief-history-of-quinoa/
Food First https://foodfirst.org/news/the-story-behind-the-popular-superfood-quinoa/
International Year of Quinoa 2013 http://www.fao.org/quinoa-2013/what-is-quinoa/origin-and-history/en/