Quinoa’s genetic secrets revealed

Quinoa, the sacred “mother grain” of the ancient Inca civilisation suppressed by Spanish conquistadors, could become an increasingly important food source in the future thanks to genetic secrets revealed in a new study.

Scientists said they have mapped the genome of quinoa and identified a gene that could be manipulated to get rid of the grain’s natural bitter taste and pave the way for more widespread commercial use.

Quinoa already grows well in harsh conditions such as salty and low-quality soil, high elevations and cool temperatures, meaning it can flourish in locales where common cereal crops like wheat and rice may struggle. But the presence of toxic and bitter chemicals called saponins in its seeds has been one of the impediments to extensive cultivation.

Plant scientist Mark Tester of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia said the research pinpointed a gene that guides production of saponins in quinoa. This knowledge could enable breeding of quinoa without saponins, to make the seeds sweeter. Currently, quinoa grain must be processed through washing and drying after harvest to remove saponins.

“Quinoa is currently greatly under-utilised,” said Tester, who led the research published in the journal Nature. “It is highly nutritious, with a high protein content that, importantly, has a very good balance of amino acids, which is unusual for our major grains. It is gluten free and high in vitamins and minerals, too.”

Increased quinoa production could improve food security on a planet with unrelenting human population growth, Tester said. There are potential disadvantages to reducing saponins, perhaps increasing susceptibility to fungal infections or bird predation, Tester added.

Quinoa, which boasts a nutty flavour, can be used the same ways as rice and wheat. It can be cooked and served on its own, turned into pasta, put in soups, eaten as a cereal or fermented to ake beer or chicha, a beverage of the Andes. The crop was sacred to the ancient Incas, who called it “chisoya mama,” or the “mother grain.”


Healthy Vegan Quinoa Pancakes

Healthy Vegan Quinoa Pancakes

Ingredients:1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup
pinch of salt
1 ½ cup of vegan milk with 1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp coconut oil
½ cup dry quinoa
1 tbsp vegan butter

Maple syrup for topping


Cook ½ dry quinoa in 1 ½ cups of water until the quinoa is nice and fluffy about 15 minutes.
Combine the milk with the vinegar and set aside for a few minutes. Meanwhile sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and combine.
In the bowl with the milk add the maple syrup, vanilla and oil and stir well.
Add the quinoa to the dry ingredients and combine the liquids with the dry ingredients and mix.
Heat a pan with vegan butter or coconut oil and drop 3 tbsp worth of batter into the pan. Cook until bubbles form on the top and the sides turn brown, then flip and cook for another minute on medium heat.
Serve on a plate and drizzle with syrup if you like.