I can tell you truthfully of the goodness of this country….. cattle like those of
[llamas, vicunas] prosper, with wool that drags on the ground; it abounds in all the foods the Indians plant for their subsistence, such as corn, potatoes, quinoa, madi, chili and beans. The people are large, tame, friendly and white, and of attractive faces, men as well as women, all dressed in wool in their style, although the clothing is somewhat crude. (all translations mine). Peru
This was the earliest mention of quinoa, (or quinua, from the Quechua) Chenopodium quinua, the “mother grain” of the Incas, and although
wrote enthusiastically, if not always truthfully (the native Mapuche were neither friendly nor tame—they killed him two years later), of the country’s blessings, he didn’t mention quinoa again. Valdivia
Quinoa is not a grain; member of the grass family like the wheat, barley, oats and rice familiar to the conquistadors, or the American maize (corn) they found and readily adopted. It is an “herb,” a leafy plant with no woody stem and abundant small seeds, unlike any plant cultivated for seeds in
. While the conquistadors ate it, comparing it to rice, it remained stigmatized as low status “Indian food,” and did not become part of the colonist’s agriculture. Spain
Today, 450 years later, quinoa is finally achieving recognition beyond indigenous communities. And while it has been subject to the usual levels of marketing hype (at left) quinoa’s high levels of protein, balanced amino acid composition, pleasant taste, and easy cooking qualities have made it popular with both the health food and foodie communities. And its potential for improving diet in high altitude and dry environments has led the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to name it as “one of the crops destined to offer food security in the next century.”
Photo: Quinoa Wikipedia
The earliest evidence of quinoa in archaeological sties is from
in levels thought to date to about 7,000 years ago. In northern Chile quinoa seeds were being collected by 5,200 BP (before present), and they were found in an archaeological site on a tributary of the Rio Maipo near Santiago from about 3,000 BP. Quinoa was attractive to hunting and gathering people both because of its nutritional value and because it could be stored without suffering losses from rodents and insects: quinoa seeds have a bitter soap-like saponin coating which makes them unpalatable unless they have been washed. Domestication probably occurred by 3,500 years ago in the area surrounding Peru Lake Titicaca where the plant’s greatest genetic diversity is found.
Quinoa, corn and potatoes were the principal crops of the Inca and their predecessor from
While quinoa continued to be cultivated by many indigenous Andean communities after the conquest, in Chile constant war with the Spanish south of the Mapuche frontier disrupted the traditional Mapuche way of life and cultivation of many traditional foods, including maize and quinoa, was greatly reduced; replaced by wheat and other European crops. In the 1620s the Spanish soldier, Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán, whose account of this captivity by the Mapuche is full of discussions of the food he was given, mentions quinoa only once, when he was given bags of “toasted corn flour, mixed with quinua.” By the 19th century it is rarely mentioned except as an historical oddity: as in “Quinoa still existed in
Chiloe in the year 1875”. Even Mapuche chief Pascual Coña’s dictated Indigenous Araucanian Life and Culture in the Second Half of the 19th Century, which provides an extensive discussion of Mapuche food and agriculture, mentions quinoa only once: “quinoa in olden times replaced cereals.”
By 1997, only 435 acres of quinoa were under cultivation in
Chile (in the highlands near ) down 30% from 20 years earlier. Iquique
Quinoa in Europe and
While quinoa cultivation was declining in
, it continued (and continues) be cultivated in Indigenous Peruvian and Bolivian communities, and was observed with interest by a number of European visitors. In 1838, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine published an article on quinoa, including the drawing to the right, a botanical description, discussion of its varieties and their uses, and its introduction to Chile Europe:
Father Feuillée, in his travels in
and Chili, seems first to have brought this plant to notice. Dombey, in 1779, sent seeds to Paris, but they did not succeed; nor are we aware that it was know in a living state in Europe till within these last few years, when it was in cultivation first in Paris, and since in England. Mr. Lambert directed public attention to it in 1834: and we are indebted to the Peru Glasgow Botanic gardento John McLeal, Esq., of for seeds which have increased most abundantly in the course of a single year.  Lima
It was also discussed by Dr. J.J Von Tschudi, who visited in 1838-42. He noted that while only a little wheat and barley were cultivated by Andean communities:
Quinoa continued to receive notice throughout the 19th and 20th century in books and journals including Popular Science Monthly (1893), National Geographic Magazine (1916), The Encyclopaedia of Gardening (1931), The Farm Quarterly (1950), and etc., Then in the 1980’s quinoa imported from Peru and Bolivia began to appear in US health food and specialty shops, and to be widely discussed in magazines and books. In 1986 an article entitled “Quinoa, a Legacy of the
Andes, Arrives” extolling it’s virtues and providing recipes appeared in the New York Times; a sure sign that it had arrived.
Today quinoa is widely available in North America through the original importer The Quinoa Corporation and others, and is being grown in Canada. It is also available in the UK and Australia and in Europe.
Quinoa Corporaton’s Ancient Harvest brand
Beginning in the late 1990s, interest in quinoa has grown in
CET Sur’s pullication La kinwa mapuche, un aporte a la alimentación (Mapuche Quinoa, a Contribution to Diet) includes Mapuche women’s comments about their experiences in the program:
I have been eating quinoa since I was a little girl, prepared with milk and sugar, and also as mote…. but during the last five years I have continued experimenting and have developed many dishes; main dishes, stews, fried foods, sweet and salted beads, cookies and many deserts. I have also made spreads to use in place of butter, salads with the leaves, and have fried the seed heads when they are tender. Zundia Pepí
…I only knew the most traditional uses of quinoa that I heard about from my grandmother, but I never ate it as a girl because I left the village. But when I came back… I began to love plants, flowers, birds and animals. In 2000 I started to develop dishes with quinoa; desserts, salads and fried dishes and then I thought that instead of buying pizza I could make my own creation… Now I can recommend it; you make a dough to which you add cooked quinoa, being careful that the seeds are soft and not dry. You spread the dough in a pan, calculating that it shouldn’t be very thick and you put it in the oven. The filling is made with various vegetables, with egg, white and black quinoa seeds, and grated cheese. Eris Cornado
Quinoa is now widely available in
Quinoa and nutrition
Quinoa is the basis of the diet of children of the altiplano. It is a blessing and great privilege. Only now is the nutritional value of this Andean cereal recognized, with its 18% of easily assimilated protein, balanced amino acid composition, and iron, calcium, phosphorus, fiber, vitamin E and B complex content Although it is now being replaced by rice and pasta, quinoa is still present in the Aymara diet almost every day. It is the reason that the nutritional status of Aymara children is good, with very few recently reported cases of malnutrition. Arturo Kirberg B. MD,
. “The health of the Aymara child” Iquique, Chile
Wikipedia) provide the data at right.
Most quinoa you are likely to encounter will have been washed to remove the bitter saponin coating, but if not, it should be rinsed under a stream of water in a fine strainer or in a pot until the rinse water runs clear. Quinoa is cooked like rice: 1 part quinoa and 2 parts water are brought to a boil and then simmered 15 to 20 minutes until the water is absorbed. And like rice it can be sautéed in oil first for pilafs. The flavor is slightly nutty but otherwise relatively neutral, so it is really combined with other flavors.
There are hundreds of quinoa recipes on the internet, but for a start try Recipes for Health: Quinoa from the New York Times, Cooking Quinoa from a US mail order source, Good Food from the BBC, or Quinoa Recipies from the Quinoa Corporation.
Meanwhile, here are two Chilean quinoa recipes, an Aymara quinoa pudding from the cookbook Cultura y alimentación indígena en Chile (Indigenous Culture and Diet in Chile).
…and a New Chilean recipe for from the bilingual cookbook Sabores de Chile para el mundo (Chilean Flavors for the World). Click to enlarge.
 Toribio Medina, José [editor]. 1929,. Cartas de Pedro de Valdivia. Sevilla: M. Carmona Velázquez. P. 223 On line at http://www.memoriachilena.cl/temas/documento_detalle.asp?id=MC0008846 Note that madi is Madia sativa, an oil seed cultivated by the Mapuche.,
 Tagle, Blanca and M. Teresa Planella. 2002. La quinoa en la zona central de chile, supervivencia de una tradición prehispánica. Santiago: Editorial Iku p 43 as quoted in Cocinas Mestizas de Chile: La Olla Deleitosa, Sonia Montecino Aguirre, Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino, 2004. p. 70. On line at www.precolombino.cl/zip_pdf.php?id=1905
 Jacobsen, Sven-Erik. 2000. Quinoa – Research and Development at the
. On line at www.cipotato.org/publications/pdf/002670.pdf International Potato Center
 Kolata, Alan L. 2009 Quinoa: Production, Consumption and Social Value
in Historical Context. Latin American Studies Association 2009 Congress Paper Archive. On line at lasa.international.pitt.edu/members/congress-papers/.../KolataAlanL.pdf , and Planella O, María Teresa, Luis E. Cornejo B and Blanca Tagle 2005. A.Alero las Morrenas 1: evidencias de cultígenos. Chungara, Revista de Antropología Chilena. 37(1):57-74. On line at www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?pid=S0717...script=sci_arttext
entre cazadores recolectores de finales del
período arcaico en Chile central.
 Torrejón, Fernando and Marco Cisternas. 2002. Alteraciones del paisaje ecológico araucano por la asimilación mapuche de la agroganadería hispano-mediterránea (siglos XVI y XVII). Revista Chilena de Historia Natural 75:729-736. On line at www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?pid=S0716...script=sci_arttext
 Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán, Francisco. 1948. El Cautiverio Feliz. Biblioteca de escritores Chilenos. Zig-Zag. On line at http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/servlet/SirveObras/78039514323481684765679/index.htm
 Cavada, Francisco J., 1914. Chiloé y los Chilotes. Revista Chilena de Historia y Geografía, 7-14. On line at http://www.memoriachilena.cl//temas/documento_detalle.asp?id=MC0008648
 Wilhelm de Moesbach, Ernesto. 1936 Vida y costumbres de los indigenas araucanas en la segunda mitad del siglo xix (presentadas en la autobiografía del indígena Pascual Coña). Santiago de Chile: Imprenta Universitario Estado 63. p. 102 On line at http://www.memoriachilena.cl//temas/documento_detalle.asp?id=MC0008879
 Delatorre-Herrera, J. 2003. Current Use of Quinoa in
. Food Reviews International 19(1-2)155-165. Chile
 Chenopodium Quinoa. Useful Quinoa (3641). 1838. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.
. 12(new series) London
 Tschudi, Dr. J. J. von. 1847. Travels in
, during the years 1838-1842. Thomasina Ross, translator. Peru : Wiley and Putnam. p. 257. On line at http://books.google.cl/books?id=J6UaAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Travels+in+peru&hl=en&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false New York
. The New York Times; Living Desk Florence
February 12, 1986, Wednesday Late City Final Edition, Section C, Page 1, Column 1
 Bécares, Diana Alfonso and Didier Bazile.2009. La quinoa como parte de los sistemas agrícolas en Chile: 3 regiones y 3 systemas. Revista Geografíca de Valparaíso 42:61-72, on line at www.rgv.ucv.cl/Articulo%2042-6.pdf , and
, Max and Juan Sepúlveda A. 2005. Experiencia de investigación participante en la recuperación de la kinwa mapuche. Serie de Publicacionse CETSUR No. 7. On line at www.cetsur.org/.../experiencia-de-investigacion-participativa-en-la-recuperacion-de-la-kinwa-mapuche.pdf Note: CET Sur is “Southern Center for Education and Technology for Development” Thomer I.
 Kirberg B, Arturo. 2006. La salud del niño aymara. Revista chilena de pediatría. 77(6):608-609. On line at http://www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0370-41062006000600009