Written by: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa) is a pseudocereal grown for its edible seeds. It is not a member of the grass family, and is therefore not a cereal—it is more closely related to such species as beets and spinach. Quinoa is grown mainly in cool mountainous regions because high ambient temperatures (90°F to 95ºF) cause sterility of the pollen.

Quinoa seeds
Quinoa seeds (Image by AmyLv on Shutterstock.com)

Quinoa has a higher in protein content (11% to 18%) that cereals, and it has an excellent amino acid profile. Quinoa is high in both lysine and methionine, making it complementary to other grains as well as to legumes. Quinoa protein is said to be comparable to that of casein, a protein in milk. Quinoa also has higher levels of energy, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and B vitamins than corn, barley, wheat, and oats.

Quinoa seeds have a coating of bitter-tasting saponins. The bitterness is advantageous during production because it reduces the need for bird protection. But the bitterness makes quinoa unpalatable to poultry. Saponins are in the outer layers of the seed hull and can be removed by washing. Saponin content in quinoa can vary considerably, from 0.14% to 0.73%. Research has shown that quinoa should not exceed 15% of the content of a poultry diet.