Quinoa Seeds...
chisaya mama (Mother of all grains)

Chenopodium Quinoa
Chenopodium Quinoa - Michael Hermann/www.cropsforthefuture.org

When talking about Quinoa seeds we are going way back in the history of South America.

As far back as 7,000 years or more, according to some estimates. Archaeologists believe it was in use prior to 3000 B.C.

Native to the Andes mountains of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, quinoa it's been rediscovered in the last few years as the "supergrain of the future".

Furthermore, FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) has declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa...

"recognizing the Andean indigenous peoples, who have maintained, controlled, protected and preserved quinoa as food for present and future generations thanks to their traditional knowledge and practices of living well in harmony with mother earth and nature"

Quinoa seeds come from a leafy plant - Chenopodium Quinoa - closely related to other chenopod species such as spinach for instance. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, therefore, by not being a grass is not technically a grain.

However, it's often referred to as a grain, due to the fact that it looks like a grain and used as a grain. One of it many uses is as a side dish in everyday meals, a substitute for grains such as rice or cous cous.


The consumption of quinoa seeds was very important in the food system of the Incas, it actually ranked second after potato and before maize, as the three main ingredients of their daily diet. Furthermore, it had sacred, spiritual significance to them, proved by the many traditions and ceremonies surrounding the cultivation, harvesting and consumption of quinoa seeds.

So important was to the Inca culture that quinoa was referred to as chisaya mama or "mother of all grains". It was used to sustain Incan armies through a combination of quinoa and fat known as "war balls".

Quinoa Seeds
Quinoa Seeds

When the Spanish conquistadores arrived to the New World in the 16th century, it was banned from cultivation due to its association with pagan, non-christian rites and merely regarded as "food for Indians".

Fortunately, quinoa managed to survive the passage of time, overcoming the force of ignorance and domination at play.

Apparently, they didn't appreciate the taste of quinoa seeds either.

A bitter coating called saponin (presently used in the elaboration of detergents among other uses) protects the seeds from being eaten by birds, thus requiring a thorough wash before consumption.

While maize and potatoe found their way to Spain, quinoa languished in obscurity.

Chenopodium quinoa can grow in the most adverse of conditions, at altitudes that maize wouldn't survive. It thrives at altitudes of approximately 9,000 to 13,000 feet above sea level, with temperatures ranging from 25F/-3C, during the night, to near 95F/35C, during the day. It requires very little rain and is frost-free.

The name derives from the Quechua kinwa, also known as ayara, kiuna, kuchikinwa, achita, kinua, kinoa and chisaya mama. The Aymara culture refer to it as supha, jopa, jupha, juira, ra and qallapi.


Gluten-free, low in sodium and cholesterol and high in fibre and protein, quinoa is considered to be complete protein, meaning that contains all eight of the essential amino acids required by the human body. Scientists have determined that quinoa has the same amount, if not superior, protein to powdered milk.

According to Bethzabe Iiguez de Barrios "Mil Delicias de la Quinua". Oruro, Bolivia (Editora Quelco, 1977), the nutritional value of 100 grams of quinoa is...

- 372 calories
- Proteins 11.49 grams
- Fat 4.86 grams
- Carbohydrates 71.2 grams
- Calcium 66 milligrams
- Iron 8.5 milligrams
- Vitamin A 1 gram
- Vitamin C 1 gram
- Thiamin 0.24 grams
- Riboflavin 0.23 grams
- Niacin 1.40 grams


Once properly rinsed in running water, the easiest cooking method is to treat quinoa seeds like rice, bringing to boil two cups of water with one cup of seeds for about 15 minutes. To add flavor, chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking. Alternatively, a rice cooker could be used, following the same method as cooking white rice.

High up in the Andes, many different dishes are prepared using quinoa. Boiled seeds are added to soups and stews for meals like jank'akipa and ch'aque. Toasted seeds are use for flour in baking breads, such as Cuzco's kallpa wawa. Another traditional meal is the pesque (peske), boiled seeds with milk and fresh cheese.

Even the leaves of the plant can be cooked for a spinach-like dish - llipcha - or served raw in a salad.

In the 70s, quinoa was taken and cultivated in some parts of the Colorado Rockies, US, without much success in making it commercially viable. Peru continues to be the world's largest exporter of quinoa seeds, followed by Bolivia and Ecuador.

As for millennia, quinoa thrives in the mighty Andes mountains more powerful than ever, up to the point that NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is considering growing it on extended space missions.

Not a bad record for a crop once simply regarded as food for Indians, isn't it?


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