Quinoa from Quechua is the common name for Chenopodium quinoa, a flowering plant in the amaranth family Amaranthaceae. It is a herbaceous annual plant grown as a grain cropprimarily for its edible seeds. Because it is not a grass, it is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal. Quinoa is closely related to the edible plants beetroot, spinach, and amaranth (Amaranthus spp.), another pseudocereal which it closely resembles.
After harvest, the seeds are processed to remove the outer coating that contains bitter-tasting saponins. They are gluten-free. Generally, the seeds are cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes. The leaves are sometimes eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but commercial availability of quinoa greens is limited. When cooked, the nutrient composition is comparable to common cereals like wheat and rice, supplying a moderate amount of dietary fiber and minerals. Quinoa is a complete source of protein, and contains all nine essential amino acids. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations declared 2013 to be the “International Year of Quinoa”. Quinoa originated in the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile, and was domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago for human consumption in the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia, though archaeological evidence shows a non-domesticated association with pastoral herding 5,200 to 7,000 years ago.
Raw, uncooked quinoa is 13% water, 64% carbohydrates, 14% protein and 6% fat (top nutrient table). Nutritional evaluations indicate that a 100 g (3.5 oz) serving of raw quinoa is a rich source (20% or higher of the Daily Value, DV) of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and dietary minerals. (Refer to the top table.) After cooking, which is the typical preparation for eating, quinoa is 72% water, 21% carbohydrates, 4% protein and 2% fat and its nutrient contents are collectively and substantially reduced. In a 100 g (3.5 oz) serving, cookedquinoa 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. (See bottom table.)
Quinoa is gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Possibly owing to these qualities, it is an experimental crop in NASA’s Controlled Ecological Life Support System for long-duration human occupied space flights.