quinoa (kēnwäˈ) [key], tall annual herb ( Chenopodium quinoa ) of the family Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot family), whose seeds have provided a staple food for peoples of the higher Andes since pre-Columbian times. The plant resembles the related lamb's-quarters of North America; the seeds are threshed, winnowed, and prepared like grain. Quinoa is eaten boiled like rice, used in soup or porridge, toasted in the form of tortillas, or mixed with wheat flour for bread. In the United States and other non-Andean nations quinoa has become popular as an alternative to rice and other grains for its higher protein content and other nutritional value. Most commerically grown quinoa is processed to remove the bitter-tasting saponins that coat the seeds.
Quinoa also has been used for poultry and livestock feed and fermented to make an alcoholic beverage called chicha, more commonly made from corn, but commercial production for export, which brings higher prices, has reduced traditional uses in Andean nations. The foliage is used for salad greens. Peru and Bolivia are the largest producers of quinoa. In the Inca Empire, where only the potato was more widely grown, quinoa is said to have been sacred; the year's first furrows were opened ceremoniously with a gold implement.
Quinoa is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Caryophyllales, family Chenopodiaceae.