Quinoa, a small full seed virtues
Quinoa, a small full seed virtues

Quinoa, a small full seed virtues

Once reserved to a niche market, the  quinoa has for several years sold in supermarkets such as pasta or rice

This little seed from Latin America has been the subject of a “World Congress”, which took place in Ecuador (8 to 12 July 2013) 2. But ultimately, quinoa, what is it?

The popularity of the United States and Europe for Quinoa is linked to the nutritional virtues of its seeds, rich in protein and gluten-free, but also its history, its production almost exclusively organic and commerce often labeled fair. Thierry Winkel 3, researcher at the Research Institute for Development (IRD), is studying quinoa for over twelve years. It answers the questions that often arises on this small seed.

A “pseudocereal” 7000 years old

Quinoa Quinoa is a 1 chénopodiacée such as beets or spinach. It is often described as “pseudocereal” because the true grains such as rice, wheat, maize or millet, belong to a different botanical family: the Poaceae, also known grasses. This explains some of its features, including the fact that its leaves are also consumables.


Domesticated in South America there are nearly 7000 years by the Andean populations, quinoa is very rustic, able to grow from 0 to 4200 meters altitude, in extremely severe conditions (poor soils, wind, drought, frozen …). “The peasant producers have created and maintain dozens of local varieties adapted to the great Andean regions and a variety of culinary uses but also medicinal and ritual,” says Thierry Winkel. The colors of quinoa plants, including stems, leaves and flowers can be green, orange, pink or red, mottled or not, reflect this diversity.


The majority of the production however gives creamy white beans after washing. This step is essential to rid saponins that protect but give them a bitter taste. The ones we buy are already washed. These are generally varieties of the group “Quinoa Real in white grains”, slightly nutty taste according to his lovers. More rarely, there are varieties of “red or black Quinoa Real”, the smaller grains.

The nutritional qualities of quinoa

High  protein content “Balanced”:

The quinoa seed is high in protein. They represent between 12 and 20% of its dry weight depending on variety and 3-5 g per 100 g when cooked, so more than rice or pasta. More importantly, these proteins are of excellent quality. “The seed of quinoa suitable for vegetarians and, more broadly, to all persons who wish to limit their meat consumption without unbalancing their diet,” says Thierry Winkel. “It provides complete proteins, which contain all the amino acids we need then so often missing one, two or three in the other plants.”


The quinoa seed is rich in B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and trace elements (iron, copper, potassium, phosphorus, manganese …). It contains as much fiber as whole grains, useful for moderating the glycemic index of the meal, increase satiety and stimulate lazy transits.

It is more greasy than cereals since lipids represent about 5% of its dry weight. However, this is very reasonable and it is essentially “good” fatty acids which include the famous Omega 3.


Another advantage of quinoa seed is that it contains no gluten, a protein found in some cereals, including wheat and its derived products (bread, pasta, semolina cakes …). Allergy sufferers (presence of specific antibodies or celiac disease) must do without in life. Although these diseases are rare, part of the population suffers from intolerance manifested by abdominal pain after consuming gluten. In all these cases, quinoa helps to diversify the supply without the risk of deficiencies. And quinoa-based recipes are numerous.

Quinoa, and often almost exclusively organic fair

Partly mechanized today, most of the quinoa production meets the criteria of organic farming. It has increased fivefold since the 1970s “Initially, it was, for Bolivia to meet the demand of local people and Peru,” says Thierry Winkel. “Then in the 80s, to the US and Europe who were seeking alternatives to cereal vegetarian or gluten intolerant people. The export has intensified in the 90s, and especially in 2000, through the development of organic and fair trade sectors. ”


The boom in quinoa exports, however, fears of negative effects at local level, on the natural environment or the consumption of Andean populations that could not meet their own needs. For Thierry Winkel, which specifically analyzed the situation 4, there is no cause for alarm: “The peasant producers are aware of the dangers of increased demand With the support of non-governmental organizations and. their associations, they have developed production standards that preserve their land. On the other hand, in the Andes, the traditional staple food is potato, not the quinoa. Considered a heavy food, it is present in many meals but in small quantities. ”


The current application has the advantage of keeping the price of quinoa at a level consistent with an economy of solidarity, still argues the researcher. So far, Bolivia manages to meet by providing, depending on the year, up to 90% of external markets. However, the nutritional qualities of the “golden seed” prompted other countries to take an interest even before it is promoted by the UN. Its cultivation has spread in South America and in recent years it has experienced in all continents (North America, Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa …).

In France, cultivated in the Val-de-Loire a variety of quinoa developed in the Netherlands, less hardy than the highlands but managed to acclimatize. The production remains low and, for now, is not certified “organic.”

Some quinoa in all dishes!

The quinoa seed is sold in packages like pasta, bulgur or rice. They are also found in the form of flakes, flour or reduced blown. Excluding special situations (vegetarian diets, celiac disease …), it is not essential to food but reduces its meat consumption, take advantage of its nutritional foods.

For Thierry Winkel, however, we use it too often like pasta or rice (meal or quinoa tabouleh …) while it is richer and could weigh on the stomach. The researcher explains: “In the Andean cooking, quinoa is mainly used to enrich soups or make small cakes is also used to prepare drinks. Teaspoon of quinoa seeds and cinnamon stick boiled a few minutes in apple juice provide a nutritious beverage popular in the Andes. ”

Quinoa seeds can advantageously replace or tapioca pulp in soups, beverages and desserts. Salad, garnish or complete meal, the researcher recommends mix it with other grains or vegetables. In a white rice, for example, red or black varieties bring even more originality to delight the eyes. In breads and cakes, its seed adds crunch and color. Quinoa can also replace part of their flour to about a fifth of the total weight so that the dough does not lose elasticity.

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