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Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)

Quinoa ( Chenopodium quinoa )

Nuclear eudicotyledons
Order : Clove-like (Caryophyllales)
Family : Foxtail family (Amaranthaceae)
Subfamily : Chenopodioideae
Genre : Goose feet ( Chenopodium )
Type : Quinoa
Scientific name
Chenopodium quinoa

Quinoa (pronounced kinoa , originally from Quechua : kinwa , Pronunciation kinwɑ ) ( Chenopodium quinoa ), also Quinoa is a plant from the genus of geese feet in the family of amaranthaceae (Amaranthaceae). It has been known as a cultivated plant in the Andes for around 5000 years . The plants are undemanding and thrive up to an altitude of 4200 m. The closely related and similarly used Chenopodium pallidicaule (Cañihua) is grown up to an altitude of 4550 m.

The small, on average 1–2 mm large and 1–5 mg heavy solitary nuts of these plants are an important staple food for mountain peoples in these high regions, since maize can no longer be grown at these altitudes. The thousand grain weight is approx. 1–5 g.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared 2013 the year of quinoa . Due to its specific advantages, the plant should help fight hunger in the world, especially in times of climate change .


Quinoa is an annual , mostly gynomonic (that means: there are also hermaphrodite flowers in addition to purely female flowers), herbaceous plant with a stature height of 50–300 cm. It forms richly branched taproots, usually about 30–50 cm long, but these can reach up to 1.5 m deep. The upright, initially massive and soft inside, but later hollow and spongy, outside compact and firm, below cylindrical, then ribbed stem is colored green, yellow, purple or dark red, or striped, with a diameter of up to 5 cm. It is usually branched, but occasionally it is unbranched.

The leaves are alternate on four sides, with a fluted stalk on the upper side, simple, thick, up to 15 cm long and up to 8 cm wide, initially green, later yellow, purple or red. The polymorphic leaves are trowel-shaped (trullate) in the lower part of the plant, three-veined, rarely with entire margins, usually with dentate teeth, in the upper part narrow-elliptical to lanceolate, pinnate-veined, whole-edged or also indented toothed, with shorter stems. The leaves appear with a flat or wavy surface and have no stipules . The young leaves are often finely hairy on the underside.

The terminal, upright, yellow, red, but also pink-orange and purple inflorescences appear in different shapes, they can be 15–70 cm long and are about 5–30 cm in diameter, they consist of ball-shaped partial inflorescences , each with a length of 1-5 cm.

The flowers appearing in clusters are inconspicuous, female (2–5 mm) or hermaphroditic (3 mm), in hybrids sterile male can also appear, they are sessile and five-part, without petals . The five tepals are boat-shaped, keeled on the outside and more or less pointed. The hermaphrodite flowers have five stamens and 2–3 feathery stigmas , as well as an ovary, the female ones have no stamens. The upper ovary develops after self- or cross- fertilization into a lens-like (lenticular), elliptoid, round to sharp-edged, about 1–4 mm large, hard, yellow, orange, red, pink, white, cream-colored, brown, gray or black ( pericarp ), dicotyledonous , multilayered achenes . The embryo is curved (kampylotropic) and surrounds the starchy perisperm median.

It is frost- and drought-resistant and grows on permeable, nitrogen- and calcium-rich soils, with a pH value of 4.5 to 9, preferably sandy to sandy-loamy soils, it accepts different climates well, the temperature range is −8 ° C to +38 ° C, 15–20 ° C is ideal. Depending on the genotype, quinoa is a long-day (LTP) or short-day (KTP) plant, as well as neutral.

Quinoa is an optional, C3 , recreto-endo- halophyte that can secrete excess salt via epidermal bladder cells (EBCs) ( papilla ). Often parts of the plant are covered with these vesicular, colorless, transparent or purple pigmented excretions, often on young leaves.


Graphic representation of the ontogeny of the quinoa genome: Duplication of a diploid genome (2n) leads to tetraploidy (4x).

Quinoa is allo tetraploid with a chromosome number of 2n = 4x = 36. As an allotetraploid, it emerged from the hybridization of two diploid parent species whose genome is designated as A and B respectively. A source of the genome is Chenopodium pallidicaule Aellen (called Cañahua or Kaniwa), an annual species of the Andes, which is also cultured. The source of the B genome is the Swedish goosefoot Chenopodium suecicum Murr. In quinoa, the entire genome has presumably been completely doubled again compared to the combined genome of the parent siblings, and there was also extensive reconstruction of the entire genome with extensive exchange of homologous sections of the two parent species between different chromosomes. The formation of the allotetraploid tribe (now hypothetically developed) resulted in a number of wild-growing, spontaneously feral or cultivated clans, including the Berlandier's goosefoot, Chenopodium berlandieri Moq. and the goosefoot Chenopodium hircinum Schrad. According to the genetic data, the buck's goose foot is most closely related. Since different genetic lines of quinoa and buck goose foot are not monophyletic to one another , it is possible that the lowland and highland forms of quinoa would have arisen independently of one another from ancestors of this species. This indicates that quinoa was domesticated twice, independently, once in the Chilean coastal region and once in the Altiplano .

Most quinoa cultivars, land races and clans are genetically relatively uniform, which is attributed to predominant self-pollination.


The first description of Chenopodium quinoa was written by Carl Ludwig von Willdenow in 1797 .

Synonyms of Chenopodium quinoa Willd. are Chenopodium album subsp. quinoa (Willd.) Kuntze , Chenopodium album var. quinoa (Willd.) Kuntze , Chenopodium cañihua O.F.Cook , Chenopodium ccoyto Toro Torrico, Chenopodium ccuchi-huila Toro Torrico, Chenopodium chilense Pers. (nom invalid.) , Chenopodium guinoa croquet . , Chenopodium hircinum var. Quinoa (Willd.) Aellen and Chenopodium nuttalliae Saff. In German, the following terms are also common for the plant: Inca rice , Reismelde , Inkakorn , rice spinach , Andean millet or Perureis .

Quinoa belongs to a group of extremely similar, partially intercrossable species that systematically belong to the genus Chenopodium , subgenus Chenopodium , section Chenopodium . After the morphology of the pericarp and the flowers shell (Perianth) the group to quinoa is used as a subsection Cellulata Iljin taken, the morphologically (alveolate) by vesicular pericarp and keeled sepals is characterized. Within the subsection, a distinction is made between a series of Foveosa , which, in addition to the fig- leaved goosefoot Chenpopodium ficifolium Sm. , Mainly contains species from North and Central America. These include a number of tetraploid , wild and cultivated species with distribution in North, Central and South America. The relationship and delimitation of the morphologically defined clans is problematic, and genetically, the clans are not always clearly definable, whereby hybrids between the species further complicate the picture. Further studies with broader taxon coverage are required for an accurate analysis. This applies above all to the distinction between quinoa and the closely related goose-goose foot, together with the respective varieties and subspecies.

Within the species Chenopodium quinoa , weeds in cultivated land occur wildly growing clans called "Ajara" (or also "Ayaras") and according to morphological criteria as subspecies Chenopodium quinoa subsp. milleanum (Aellen) Aellen or variety Chenopodium quinoa var. melanospermum Hunziker . These stand out u. a. through the black colored seed coats. In fact, however, the relationship and similarity turns out to be geographically rather than determined between cultivated and wild plants. The wild and cultivated plants of the Chilean coastal plain are more similar to each other than both to the respective weed and cultivated groups of the Andes. This dichotomy of the Quinoa species into a highland and a lowland form was clearly confirmed by the genetic analyzes. The Chilean lowland clan, known regionally as "Quingua", can be distinguished from that of the Altiplano by the morphology of the inflorescence and the shape of the leaf edge.


Both the genetic and the morphological data surprisingly reveal an origin of the entire cultivated species aggregate around quinoa in North America , with subsequent spread to South America . In the (developed) home of the aggregate, another clan, now extinct, used to be cultivated as Chenopodium berlandieri subsp. jonesianum is called. The wild growing plants of South America , known as Chenopodium berlandieri , are even more similar to quinoa, so that for some weed species it is uncertain whether they belong to the respective species. The data indicate that Chenopodium berlandieri , or a very similar tribe, initially spread from North to South America and that this was initially wildly collected here and later domesticated, probably at least twice, independently in the highlands and in the lowlands. The species was spread as a cultivated plant by the pre-Columbian Indian cultures. This spread is primarily associated with the Inca empire , but went far beyond that, for example by the Mapuche people on the island of Chiloé . After the conquest by the Spaniards , however, the culture was strongly pushed back and regionally even completely abandoned, for example in the area around Bogotá in Colombia or the province of Córdoba in Argentina .

The region around Lake Titicaca is considered to be the region of origin in the Altiplano, with the greatest variety of varieties and land races . However, it is difficult to prove the actual domestication of the species, since the seeds were probably collected from wild plants for a long time and wild and cultivated plants of quinoa (and even more of the closely related Cañihua) are still quite similar today. An indication of domesticated plants is primarily larger seeds, in conjunction with a bimodal (i.e. bimodal ) curve of the size frequency, which indicates a differentiation between cultivated and wild plants. Other features such as the thickness of the seed coat are also used. According to these data, the area around Lake Titicaca is the one with the earliest records (grains from Chiripa that were charred in a fire ), the age of which is estimated to be around 3500 years.


Commercial quinoa before preparation

The mineral-rich leaves are eaten as a vegetable or salad . The mustard grain-sized seeds have a grain-like composition, which is why quinoa - like amaranth - is referred to as a gluten-free pseudo- grain, but at least two types of quinoa still contain portions of gluten. Botanically, however, quinoa belongs to the foxtail family, and it is therefore more related to spinach or beets . It works well in place of rice .

The natural food trade sells quinoa pure or as an ingredient in muesli mixes. For the Incas it was a cure for sore throats. Especially for people who suffer from celiac disease (gluten intolerance), it is a complete grain substitute for most varieties. Because of these properties, it is suitable for allergy sufferers and very popular in vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Quinoa is also suitable for making gluten-free beer . For use in human nutrition, quinoa is soaked in water before cooking and the soaking water is poured off.


Worldwide quinoa production 2018
(in tons)
PeruPeru Peru 86.011
BoliviaBolivia Bolivia 70,763
EcuadorEcuador Ecuador 2.146
World as a whole 158.920
Source: FAO
Quinoa harvest in Ecuador
Training on quinoa cultivation in Peru
Dried quinoa before threshing

Quinoa has been used as a staple food together with amaranth (local name Kiwicha ) for around 5000 years . It was especially cultivated in the Andes plateaus above an altitude of 4000 m. There the two plants were indispensable for the people, since maize cannot be grown at these altitudes. During the Spanish conquests and wars against the Incas and Aztecs in the 16th century (see Francisco Pizarro and Hernán Cortés ), the cultivation of quinoa and amaranth was banned and even made subject to the death penalty . This was intended to weaken the peoples.

In 1993, a NASA report made quinoa internationally known as a "new" grain that would be particularly suitable for use in Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems (e.g. space stations or colonies) due to its high protein values ​​and unique amino acid structure. The demand rose sharply in Europe and North America in the coming years. The increasing demand led to an increased world market price and rising incomes for the quinoa farmers. On the other hand, fewer and fewer Bolivians and Peruvians could now afford the highly expensive food and had to switch to cheaper, industrially processed food.

According to the FAO , around 158,920 tons of quinoa from 178,313 hectares were harvested worldwide in 2018 . The yield per hectare was 8.91 dt / ha. The main growing countries are Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. In Germany only small amounts are grown - mostly for experimental purposes. If quinoa is grown in Central Europe, it is sown from early to mid-April. Harvesting takes place from mid-September with combine harvesters . Since the grains ripen unevenly in the large fruit stands, the grains have to be dried after the harvest.

Today, the cultivation of this pseudo-grain is promoted as part of development projects in Peru and Bolivia, since the plants have low demands on soil and water and have been recognized as a healthy alternative food. Cultivation outside of South America has so far been uncommon, but is being considered for the Himalayan region in India.

Average composition

Per 100 g of edible portion:

energy 1434 kJ
(343 kcal)
water 12.7 g
protein 13.8 g
fat 5.0 g
( MUF : 2.6 g)
carbohydrates 58.5 g
of which  fiber 6.6 g
Minerals 3.3 g
potassium 805 mg
phosphorus 330 mg
magnesium 275 mg
Calcium 80 mg
sodium 10 mg
iron 8 mg
zinc 2.5 mg
Vitamin A 0.0 µg
Vitamin E. 0.1 mg
Vitamin B1 170 µg
Nicotinamide 450 µg
Folic acid 50 µg
Vitamin B12 0.0 µg
vitamin C 4 mg

Quinoa is relatively rich in protein and the minerals potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. The content of protein and some minerals (especially magnesium and iron ) exceeds the content of common cereals . It contains plenty of vitamin B1, while the other B vitamins, including folic acid, are relatively low. The fat-soluble vitamins A and E are almost completely absent, and vitamin C is only contained in small traces. The amino acid spectrum includes all essential amino acids . The fatty acids are more than 50 percent unsaturated. The vitamin content and nutritional value are roughly comparable to that of rice. Quinoa contains significantly more minerals, more protein and a larger amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids (but fewer carbohydrates). Consumption of 100 g quinoa covers about a third of the recommended daily requirement for iron and magnesium.

Health issues

Quinoa achieves protection against pests through bitter-tasting saponins , which are on the seed coat (pericarp). Quinoa is therefore inedible when unpeeled. Commercially available quinoa is therefore peeled or washed and thus freed from saponin and debittered. The saponin content is significantly reduced by this process. Heating / boiling can render around a third of any remaining saponins harmless. The possible residual content of saponins is not harmful to humans, as they are hardly absorbed by the intestine.


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Web links

Commons : Quinoa ( Chenopodium quinoa )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Quinoa  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

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