Quinoa or Chenopodium quinoa, originated in South America in the mountaineous region of The Andes and has been a staple food for thousands of years for the indigenous peoples who live there. The Incans referred to quinoa as chisaya mama or 'mother of all grains', and it was the Incan emperor who would traditionally sow the first sacred seeds of this revered grain each spring.
Quinoa was of great nutritional importance in pre-Columbian Andean civilizations, and was recognised in its importance as a high-energy food source, and an essential dietary component for their warriors. It was secondary only to the potato, and was followed in importance by maize.
As a crop, Quinoa is hardy and undemanding and grows easily at altitude. The plant is usually about 1–2 m high, with broad, powdery lobed leaves. The woody central stem is either branched or unbranched depending on the variety and may be green, red or purple. The seed pods are about 2 mm in diameter and of various colours — from white to red or black.
Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all eight of the essential amino acids and as such, can be very nutritious. Naturally gluten free, as a grain it can be used like rice and has a delicious, nutty flavour. When it is ground into flour, it works well in cakes and biscuits.