Quinoa is an Andean plant which originated in the area surrounding Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia. Quinoa was cultivated and used by pre-Columbian civilizations and was replaced by cereals on the arrival of the Spanish, despite being a local staple food at the time.

Existing historical evidence indicates that its domestication by the peoples of America may have occurred between 3,000 and 5,000 years BCE. There are archeological discoveries of quinoa in tombs of Tarapacá, Calama and Arica in Chile, and in different regions of Peru.

At the time of Spanish arrival, quinoa was well developed technologically and was widely distributed within and beyond Inca territory. The first Spaniard to note the cultivation of quinoa was Pedro de Valdivia who, on noticing the planted crops around Concepción, recorded that, for food, the native Indians also sowed quinoa among other plants.

In his royal commentaries, Garcilaso de la Vega, describes quinoa as one of the second grains cultivated on the face of the earth, somewhat resembling millet or short-grain rice. He also mentions the first shipment of seeds to Europe which were unfortunately dead on arrival and unable to germinate, perhaps because of the high humidity of the sea voyage.

Later, Cieza de León (1560) reported that quinoa was cultivated in the highlands of Pasto and Quito, mentioning that little maize but an abundance of quinoa was grown on these cold lands. Also, Patiño (1964) in his chronicles on La Pazmentions the use of quinoa as a source of food for the indigenous populations (Jimenes de la Espada, 1885, II, 68). Finally, Humboldt, on visiting Colombia, states that quinoa always accompanied and followed the inhabitants of Cundinamarca.

Before its domestication, wild Quinoa was probable first used mainly as a source of food from its leaves and seeds. There is early evidence of its morphology on pottery from the Tiahuanaco culture depicting a quinoa plant with several panicles along its stem, which would suggest one of the more primitive strains of the plant.

Its genetic variability indicates quinoa as an oligocentric species with widely distributed centre of origin and multiple diversifications. The Andean region and, in particular, the shores of Lake Titicaca present the greatest genetic diversity and variation.

Quinoa has undergone a wide range of morphological changes during its domestication and as a result of human activity. These include a more compact inflorescence at the tip of the plant, an increase in size of stem and seed, loss of seed dispersal mechanisms and high levels of pigmentation. There are many variations of quinoa White or Neutral, Black , Red , Tri color.

During domestication the Andean populations no doubt selected genotypes according to use and tolerance to adverse biotic and abiotic factors, resulting in today’s plants and ecotypes with their different characteristics, such as “Chullpi” for soups, “Pasankalla” for toasting, “Coytos” for flour, “Reales” for “pissara” or grains, “Utusaya” to resist salinity, “Witullas” and “Achachinos” to resist cold, “Kcancollas” to resist drought, “Quellus” or yellow seed for high yield, “Chewecas” to resist excessive humidity, “Ayaras” for nutritional value (high balance of essential amino acids and proteins), and “Ratuquis” for early growth.

One of the best reasons to enjoy quinoa is because it has a high-protein content, which makes it a great cholesterol-free and low-fat source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. According to the USDA nutrient database, 1 cup of cooked quinoa (185 g) contains 8.14 grams of protein. To put that in reference, the recommended daily protein intake is about 56 grams for most men and 46 for most women.

Fat in Quinoa:
Quinoa is naturally low in fat, but as a seed, it does have a small amount. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 3.4 grams of fat. By comparison, 185 grams cooked lean ground beef provides 33 grams of fat. Whoa! See also: Fat-free vegan recipes

Calories in Quinoa:
Quinoa is relatively low in calories. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 222 calories. But of course, watch what you add to the quinoa, as it’s in the cooking process that most of the calories and fat will be added, depending on how you prepare it.

Other Nutrients in Quinoa:
Quinoa is a great source of iron and fiber for vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores alike. One cup of cooked quinoa (185 grams) provides 15% of the recommended daily intake of iron, and 5 grams of fiber, which is 21% the recommended amount. Quinoa is also an excellent source of magnesium, with 118 mg per cup, cooked. According to the USDA nutrient database, one cup of cooked quinoa provides:

39.41 mg carbohydrates
31 mg calcium
2.76 mg iron
318 mg potassium
13 mg sodium
2.02 mg zinc

More about Quinoa
Never cooked with quinoa before and wondering just how to prepare this healthy gluten-free whole grain? Wondering where you can find some at the grocery store? Find out the answers to all these questions and more with this introduction to quinoa. Everything you need to know, including healthy vegetarian quinoa