Quinoa is a flowering plant in the amaranth family. It is a herbaceous annual plant grown as a grain crop primarily for its edible seeds.

Quinoa is not a grass, but rather a pseudocereal botanically related to spinach and amaranth.

Quinoa provides protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and dietary minerals in rich amounts above those of wheat, corn, rice, or oats. It is gluten-free. After harvest, the seeds are processed to remove the bitter-tasting outer seed coat.

Quinoa originated in the Andean region of northwestern South America, and was domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago for human consumption in the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia, although archaeological evidence shows livestock uses 5,200 to 7,000 years ago.

History and culture

Quinoa was first domesticated by Andean peoples around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago.

It has been an important staple in the Andean cultures where the plant is indigenous but relatively obscure to the rest of the world.

The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to it as chisoya mama or “mother of all grains“, and it was the Inca emperor who would traditionally sow the first seeds of the season using “golden implements”.

During the Spanish conquest of South America, the colonists scorned it as “food for Indians“, and suppressed its cultivation, due to its status within indigenous religious ceremonies. The conquistadors forbade quinoa cultivation at one point, and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa”  in recognition of the ancestral practices of the Andean people, who have preserved it as a food for present and future generations, through knowledge and practices of living in harmony with nature.

The objective was to draw the world’s attention to the role that quinoa could play in providing food security, nutrition and poverty eradication in support of achieving Millennium Development Goals.

Some academic commentary emphasized, however, that quinoa production could have ecological and social drawbacks in its native regions, and that these problems needed to be tackled.

Nutritional value

Raw, uncooked quinoa is 13% water, 64% carbohydrates, 14% protein, and 6% fat. Nutritional evaluations indicate that a 100 g (3.5 oz) serving of raw quinoa seeds is a rich source (20% or higher of the Daily Value, DV) of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins, including 46% DV for folate, and the dietary minerals magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

After cooking, which is the typical preparation for eating the seeds, quinoa is 72% water, 21% carbohydrates, 4% protein, and 2% fat.

In a 100 g (3.5 oz) serving, cooked quinoa provides 120 calories and is an excellent source of manganese and phosphorus (30% and 22% DV, respectively), and a moderate source (10-19% DV) of dietary fiber, folate, and the dietary minerals, iron, zinc, and magnesium.

Quinoa is gluten-free. Because of the high concentration of protein, ease of use, versatility in preparation, and potential for greatly increased yields in controlled environments, it has been selected as an experimental crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration human occupied space flights.

Kosher certification

It is used in the Jewish community as a substitute for the leavened grains that are forbidden during the Passover holiday.

Several kosher certification organizations refuse to certify it as being kosher for Passover, citing reasons including its resemblance to prohibited grains or fear of cross-contamination of the product from nearby fields of prohibited grain or during packaging.

However, in December 2013 the Orthodox Union, the world’s largest kosher certification agency, announced it would begin certifying quinoa as kosher for Passover.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.