Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is commonly cultivated as a grain crop in Chile and Peru. This plant is receiving considerable attention world-wide as a trouble-free easily grown seed crop for warm temperate and tropical zones. It has the potential to outcrop cereals on light land in Britain.
The plant is day-length sensitive and many varieties fail to flower properly away from equatorial regions, however those varieties coming from the south of its range in Chile are more likely to do well in Britain. Different cultivars take from 90 - 220 days from seed sowing to harvest. Yields as high as 5 tonnes per hectare have been recorded in the Andes, which compares favourably with wheat in that area.
Young plants look remarkably like the common garden weed fat hen (Chenopodium album). Be careful not to weed the seedlings out in error.
An easily grown plant, it requires a rich moist well-drained soil and a warm position if it is to do really well, but it also succeeds in less than optimum conditions. Tolerates a pH range from 6 to 8.5 and moderate soil salinity.
Plants are quite wind resistant. Plants are drought tolerant once they are established. Plants tolerate light frosts at any stage in their development except when flowering.Gold/green dyes can be obtained from the whole plant. Saponins on the seed can be used as a bird and insect deterrent by spraying them on growing plants. The saponins are obtained by saving the soak-water used when preparing the seed for eating. The spray remains effective for a few weeks or until washed off by rain.
The seed is not attacked by birds because it has a coating of bitter tasting saponins. These saponins are very easily removed by soaking the seed overnight and then thoroughly rinsing it until there is no sign of any soapiness in the water. The seed itself is very easy to harvest by hand on a small scale and is usually ripe in August. Cut down the plants when the first ripe seeds are falling easily from the flower head, lay out the stems on a sheet in a warm dry position for a few days and then simply beat the stems against a wall or some other surface, the seed will fall out easily if it is fully ripe and then merely requires winnowing to get rid of the chaff.
Seed - cooked. A pleasant mild flavour, the seed can absorb the flavour of other foods that are cooked with it and so it can be used in a wide variety of ways.
It should be thoroughly soaked and rinsed to remove a coating of saponins on the seed surface. The seed can be used in all the ways that rice is used, as a savoury or sweet dish.
It can also be ground into a powder and used as a porridge. The seed can also be sprouted and used in salads though many people find the sprouted seed unpleasant.
The seed contains a very high quality protein that is rich in the amino acids lysine, methionine and cystine, it has the same biological value as milk. The seed contains about 38% carbohydrate, 19% protein, 5% fat, 5% sugar.
Leaves - raw or cooked. The young leaves are cooked like spinach. It is best not to eat large quantities of the raw leaves.