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Quinoa belongs to the botanical family of goosefoot plants (bot.: Chenopodiaceae). Similar to amaranth it is a pseudocereal, which means it develops seeds containing starch but is no grass and therefore no cereal. In cuisine quinoa grains are used like cereals and its leafs like spinach. Therefore quinoa classifies as a leaf vegetable.

Quinoa originates in Peru. The plants grow in the Andes in valleys at 2800 to 4000 m above sea level and are up to two meters tall. Their starchy red-brown, yellow or white grains remind of millet. For the Incas quinoa was a staple and called the chisaya mama or mother of all grains. It was seen as the origin of all life. In fact does quinoa contain more nutrients than any other cereal. It contains 13 to 22 percent protein, which makes it one of the vegetables with the highest protein level. The composition of its amino acids is perfectly balanced. It matches the recommendations of the WHO (World Health Organization). A unbalanced alimentation with quinoa would provide all essential amino acids for the human organism. Moreover, it has a unique level of Lysine, that does not occur in other plants or only in smallest amounts. It contains high amounts of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. For all these reasons quinoa is also called Inca Gold.

Amino acids in grams per 100 grams quinoa
Isoleucine 0,88 Leucine 0,98
Lysine 0,91 Valine 0,55
Arginine 1,02 Methionine 0,33
Phenylalanine 0,48 Threonine 0,63
Tryptophane 0,15 Histidine 0,37
Tyrosine 0,39 Cystine 0,33
(Source: M. Kipping, personal notes, 1994.)

Minerals and trace elements in milligrams per 100 grams quinoa
calcium 200 Phosphorous 470
Iron 51 Potassium 1040
Sodium 122 Magnesium 310
Copper 0,87 Manganese 4,3
Chloride 533 Silica 115
Zinc 8,7 Sulphur 220
Cobalt 0,005    
(Source: M. Kipping, personal notes, 1994.)

Vitamins in grams per 100 grams quinoa
Vitamin B1 0,65 Vitamin B2 0,4
Vitamin C 4,4 Vitamin E 5,37
Carotene 0,48    
(Source: M. Kipping, personal notes, 1994.)

Quinoa grains are free of gluten and contain 5 % fat, which is 2.5 times the amount of wheat. The fat content is for the largest part made up of long-chained, unsaturated fatty acids. 4,3 % of them are Alpha-Linolenic acids, an Omega-3 fatty acid that is usually found in fish.

All those aspects counted, quinoa is today as much a motor for health and strength, as it was in Inca times. Today quinoa imports make it possible to benefit from the many bioactive substances all over the world. Quinoa is considered to be the ideal dietary supplement.

In shops selling health- and wholefoods quinoa products are sometimes mixed with defatted Lecythis-flour. Quinoa barely contains any selenium and the addition of Lecythis-flour compensates this deficiency. The flour is produced from the high-selenium Brazil nut (bot.: Lecythis minor) and the addition raises the selenium content to up to 25µ g/100 g.

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Usage of quinoa

Quinoa grains are cooked like rice, though the cooking time is considerably shorter. It is used as a side dish or ingredient in soups and stews. Quinoa flour can be used to prepare sweet or salty soufflés. Quinoa that is ground to groats or flakes can be used in fresh mueslis.

Tip: The hulls of quinoa grains contain natural bitter substances, so called saponins. Saponins act as a blood thinner. Quinoa should be washed well before it is used. Some quinoa varieties have less saponins than others. Producers of other varieties remove the hulls with mechanical methods. For the preparation of food for babies and small children quinoa should still not be used.

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