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Three different colours of Quinoa[1]

Quinoa, which is nowadays considered as trendy “superfood”, is one of the most popular options for people on diet, or people who have more concerns on healthy food choices. Quinoa is a kind of edible seed from goosefoot, a weed-like plant which has close relation with beets and spinach.[2] Quinoa is usually used as a substitute for rice, containing a great amount of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Unlike other grains like wheat, rice and oats, even though quinoa is processed as a cereal grain, it is recognized as “pseudocereal”.[3] Cooked quinoa provides a nutty flavour with soft texture, which is gluten-free and is friendly to those people who are on gluten-free diet. There are different ways to make quinoa, the most common ways are to boil and prepare as salads, soup or breakfast porridge.[3] Studies from the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council reported that quinoa can be made in a variety of forms as food, such as flour, flakes, even pasta and bread[4]. The United Nations announced 2013 as “The International Year of Quinoa”, which highly acknowledged and valued Quinoa’s nutrition benefits and potential food option to secure world’s hunger issue.[3]

Most commonly, quinoa usually comes with 3 types:

White quinoa seeds[5]

White quinoa

  • The most common form of quinoa which displays in ivory colour, also called yellow quinoa, blonde quinoa or golden quinoa[6]
  • Provides the most delicate flavour and lightest texture; looks fluffier after being cooked, compared to other types of quinoa[6]

Rea quinoa

  • Thicker taste, chewier texture and provides a nuttier flavour than other types of quinoa[6]
  • Usually used for cold salads[6]

Black quinoa

  • Earthy flavour, and somehow sweeter among other types of quinoa[6]


The earliest evidence in history shows that quinoa might have existed between 3000- and 5000-years BCE in Chile and different areas of Peru.  As historical evidence reported, quinoa was first growing and used by pre-Columbian civilization. By the time when the Spanish arrived, quinoa had been well developed and cultivated in Inca territory.[7]Quinoa had a special reputation among indigenous people like Inca, where their people called it “mother of all grains”. According to the historical evidence, the Inca king would plant the first seed of quinoa, as a ceremonious symbol.[8] It is a symbolic ancient grain and icon for Inca descendants, meanwhile it is still an essential food source for indigenous people.[7]


Cooler temperatures and shorter day lengths are preferred when growing quinoa.[9] Research has shown that growing quinoa in areas where temperatures exceed 95℉ can lead poor yields and decreased pollen effectiveness.[9] Furthermore, quinoa plants should not be exposed to temperatures below 28℉ as this can lead to a significant yield loss.[9]

Quinoa plants are best grown on sandy loam soils as they have low water capacity characteristics.[9]  In order to prepare the soil for growing quinoa, a mechanical system can be used, which uses a mechanized plough.[10] The sowing of quinoa seeds is one of the most important aspects in determining the production yield.[10] Quinoa seeds are sown at different times of the year depending on the location and the moisture of the soil.[10]

Harvesting time of quinoa plants also depends on many factors including location, temperatures, and soil moisture.[10] The colour of the leaves of quinoa plants turning yellow or red is a sign that plants have reached physiological maturity and are ready to be harvested.[10] There are three harvesting methods, traditional uprooting, sickle harvesting, and semi-mechanical harvesting.[10] In the traditional uprooting method plants are pulled out by hand and then shook to remove any remaining soil.[10] The semi-mechanical harvesting method is the most efficient and uses a mechanical mower which leaves the root and soil intact.[10]

After the plant is harvested, a process that includes stacking/drying, threshing, and winnowing is used to obtain the grain.[10] The stacking/drying section of the process is done immediately after harvesting.[10] After the stacking/drying phase, a process known as threshing is used to separate the grains from the panicle.[10] There are four different methods of threshing including manual, semi-mechanical, mechanical, and direct threshing.[10] After this a process known as winnowing is used to separate the perigonium and plant waste from the commercial grain.[10]



Quinoa is manufactured in different parts of the world. An example found is from the US brand Smirks, which does its quinoa manufacturing in Peru. The steps in manufacturing involve obtaining the raw material, removing foreign material, removal of saponin, washing, sterilization, and drying. All of these steps are conducted by large machines. After testing the quinoa, the quinoa is packaged into paper bags. Each bag has 25 kg of Quinoa. Then it is sent to the United States to be sold.

Storage and Packaging[11]

Choosing the correct packaging is very important to prevent deterioration and so that the food can last as long as its entire shelf life. Quinoa is commonly packaged in resealable plastic bags. Occasionally you may see glass containers used as packaging. Machines are commonly used to package quinoa. Machines automatically open the packaging and pour in a pre-measured amount of quinoa. Then the bag is sealed. Sealing the bag is important to prevent any air or moisture from entering the bag. It is important to store quinoa in a dry area and away from light. Like other foods, quinoa can also decay in specific conditions. Cooked quinoa must be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Costs and Profit[10]

The production quinoa requires little investment.. Costs can include land preparation, sowing, cultivation procedures, harvest, and post harvest. Overall production costs for one hectare of quinoa costs about 910 USD. The gross income for one hectare of quinoa can be $2040 per year. Leading to a total profit of US $1130 per hectare/year. The income generated by quinoa production may be low compared to other high value crops, but it is important to note that quinoa is produced in places where other crops do not thrive. Also, due to the hardiness of quinoa crops, the risk of loss due to adverse conditions is much lower than other crops.

Nutritional properties

Quinoa seed structure and composition
Quinoa seed structure and composition[12]


About 14%-16% of quinoa’s weight are formed with protein. It’s generally higher than major cereal crops such as wheat, corn, and rice[12]. About 8.14g of protein is contained in 185g of quinoa (one cup) [13]. Various of amino acids are presented in quinoa including lysine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, threonine, tryptophan, valine, histidine and methionine, which are essential to human body. In addition, sulfur-containing amino acids are found to be distinctively higher than other plants, due to the land of origin of quinoa[14].


The primary composition of carbohydrate in quinoa is starch, at about 32% to 69%, which is lower than corn and rice[12]. Granules of quinoa starch have a polygonal form with a diameter of 2 µm, being smaller than starch in other common grains. Small starch granule size provides quinoa good freeze–thaw stability, allows it to be the ideal thickener in in frozen food[14]. The main sugars in quinoa are maltose, d-ribose, and d-galactose. Very low levels of glucose and fructose are presented in quinoa; therefore, it can be used to improve metabolic control for diabetic people[12].


About 8%-13% of quinoa seed is fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa(185g) provides 5.18g of fiber, which equals to at least 15.42% of an adult’s daily requirement[13]. Approximately 78% was insoluble dietary fiber composed of homogalacturonans, xyloglucans, and cellulose. Quinoa soluble fiber was 22%, as compared to about 15% for wheat and maize, and was composed primarily of homogalacturonans and arabinans[12].

Minerals and Vitamins:

Minerals and vitamins belong to the ash component of quinoa. High amount and concentration of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc are found more than most of the grains[14]. Quinoa is also a rich source of vitamins, including vitamin A precursor β-carotene, thiamin/vitamin B1, riboflavin/vitamin B2, niacin/vitamin B-3, ascorbic acid/vitamin C, folic acid/vitamin B9 and vitamin E B6[12].


Quinoa contains 1.8% to 9.5% of oil content, with an average of 5.0–7.2%, which is higher than that of maize (3–4%) and corn (5.29%)[14]. Saturated fat takes 9.9-12.3% of the fat with palmitic acid predominant. 25-28.7% is monounsaturated fat, mainly oleic acid. Polyunsaturated fat is 56.2-28.3% with most of it being linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid. The unsaturated fatty acids are well protected by the high level of natural vitamin E, which prevents oxidation[12].

How its used in Food

Quinoa is widely used in people's diet world wildly. As a good source of plant-based protein, it becomes popular among people who are following a vegetarian or a vegan diet[13]. Generally, people are consuming it as a variety of grain. Since quinoa contains less carbohydrate, more fiber and protein, it is commonly used as a substitute of rice in any recipe[15].

Cooking quinoa is simple: firstly, rinse it under running water for 30 seconds; secondly boil 1 part of quinoa with 2 parts of water in a pot, simmer for 20 minutes; finally, remove the pot from heat and steam for 5 minutes, add salt for some extra taste if need[16]. Cooked quinoa can be used in salad, soup, porridge, tacos and more[13]. Hundreds of different recipes are available online conveniently.


Environmental Impacts[17]

  1. The production of quinoa relies heavily on the natural manure provided by the llamas that live in the areas that quinoa is grown. However, due to the increasing international demand, farmers have expanded farming onto more lands and have sold the llamas that are traditionally used as a natural fertilizer and a means of preventing erosion. Rapid expansion and different producers also threaten ecological sustainability. Large scale farming systems have harmful effects such as reducing  soil quality making it hard to continue farming on the same land for a long time. It is not sustainable in the long term.
  2. The increasing demand in the production of quinoa is the change in land and the need to increase the crops genetic homogeneity. Changing the land, changes the genetic diversity of quinoa as well as the human culture that has been connected to quinoa for many years. Production has shifted from traditional farming to large scale farming systems. Resulting in a loss of cultural tradition as well as biodiversity within the environment itself.
  3. The increased use of insecticides and other chemicals is another negative environmental impact. This is due to global warming and increasing temperatures, and the movement of insects to higher altitudes. This once again removes organisms (good or bad) from the environment, reducing biodiversity and killing of insects such as bees.
  4. he increase in consumer demand also results in the need to use large scale farming practices, since it takes too much time for farmers to farm by hand. The dependence on modem machinery limits the land that they can use to farm the land while also increasing the use of fossil fuel. This simply adds pollution into the environment. Even with the production of quinoa in factories we, as consumers must also think about the pollution that comes within the processing and manufacturing of such large quantities of quinoa.

Humanitarian Issue[18]

As we know, quinoa is produced in Southern America in places such as Peru, Columbia and Bolivia. Focusing on Bolivia specifically it is one of the poorest countries in Southern America. A large part of their income comes from the production of quinoa. The increase in quinoa’s market price was an economic opportunity for Bolivia but yet the country still is one of the poorest countries and the most food insecure.

The price of quinoa has increased drastically increased which encourages farmers to sell top quality quinoa to international markets but keep lower quality and less nutritious ones for the domestic market. The increasing price of quinoa has even made it difficult for locals to purchase the staple food that has been consumed by them for years, which only increases the food security issues within Bolivia

The Future of Quinoa[17]

The fact that quinoa is a superfood loved by many across the world will not change anytime soon. However, to lessen the impacts that quinoa production brings there are many things that us as consumers can do.

Such as

  • Buying quinoa that is fair trade
    • This supports the farmers and their families who work hard to earn money. While also promoting sustainable practices as Fair Trade encourages farmers to use methods that do not utilize monocultures or harm the environments
  • Be mindful
    • Do not rely solely on quinoa simply because it is a well known and loved superfood. Diversify your diet and find different ways to balance the foods you eat.

There are also many other countries that are researching and studying different manufacturing processes or different means of growing quinoa in other countries. Though this can have beneficial and negative effects this seems to be the direction that quinoa production will be taking the the future

Exam Question


Which are true about Quinoa?

a) Contains a great amount of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals

b) Relied greatly on the natural manure from llamas during farming in Bolivia

c) There are three common types: White, Rea and Black Quinoa

d) Goes through the processes of harvesting, stacking/drying, threshing and winnowing to obtain[12] the grain

e) All of the above

Correct Answer

e) All of the above

Explanation as to why it should be on the exam

Quinoa is a superfood that many people know of but do not have too much information about. As it is often advertised as a food that is beneficial not many people know about it. This is a good question to learn more about the well known superfood.


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  2. "What Is Quinoa?".
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  4. "Quinoa: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts".
  5. "White Quinoa Seeds".
  7. 7.0 7.1 "ORIGIN AND HISTORY".
  8. "Quinoa History and Origin".
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Oelke, E.A., Putnam, D.H., Teynor, T.M., Oplinger, E.S. "Quinoa".CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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  15. McDermott, Annette (July 13, 2016). "Quinoa vs. Rice: The Health Benefits of Each Grain".
  16. "How to Cook Perfect Quinoa & 10 Quinoa Recipes".
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Quinoa". Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved Aug 12, 2020.
  18. Yu, Long (January 22, 2019). "Superfoods' Dark Side: Increasing Vulnerability of Quinoa Farmers in Bolivia". Global Food, Health, and Society. Retrieved August 12, 2020.