[size=75]From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [/size]
Quinoa (pronounced /kwɨˈnoʊə/ or /ˈkiːnoʊə/) is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) grown as a crop primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal as it is not a grass. Its leaves are also eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is currently limited.
Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been an important food for 6,000 years. Its name is the Spanish spelling of the Quechua name. Quinoa is generally undemanding and altitude-hardy, so it can be easily cultivated in the Andes up to about 4,000 meters. Even so, it grows best in well-drained soils and requires a relatively long growing season. In eastern North America, it is susceptible to a leaf miner that may reduce crop success; this leaf miner also affects the common weed Chenopodium album, but C. album is much more resistant.
Similar Chenopodium species, such as Pitseed Goosefoot (Chenopodium berlandieri) and Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) were grown and domesticated in North America as part of the Eastern Agricultural Complex before maize agriculture became popular. Fat Hen, which has a widespread distribution in the Northern Hemisphere, produces edible seeds and greens much like quinoa, but in lower quantities. Caution should be exercised in collecting this weed, however, because when growing in heavily fertilized agricultural fields it can accumulate dangerously high concentrations of nitrates.
Chenopodiums were also used in Europe as greens.
Chenopodium quinoa (and a related species from Mexico, Chenopodium nuttalliae) is most familiar as a fully domesticated plant, but it was believed to have been domesticated in the Andes from wild populations of Chenopodium quinoa. There are non-cultivated quinoa plants (Chenopodium quinoa var. melanospermum) which grow in the same area where it is cultivated, which probably are related to the wild progenitors, but which could instead be the descendents of cultivated plants.
The Incas, who held the crop to be sacred, referred to quinoa as “chisaya 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 European conquest of South America quinoa was scorned by the Spanish colonists as “food for Indians”, and even actively suppressed, due to its status within indigenous non-Christian ceremonies.