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Class: Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons)
Species: C. quinoa Willdenow
Origin and diffusion
The seeds of this plant, subjected to grinding, provide a flour containing mainly starch, which allows this plant to be classified in full title as a cereal despite not belonging to the botanical family of grasses or poaceae. It is distinguished from other cereals by its high protein content and by the total absence of gluten. In Anglo-Saxon terminology, which attributes the meaning of cereal (word of Latin origin) to plants ascribable to grasses (or poaceae) and their products only, quinoa is instead classified as pseudocereal. For its good protein intake, it is the staple food for the Andean populations. The Incas call quinoa "chisiya mama" which in Quechua means "mother of all seeds".
Red Quinoa inflorescence - Chenopodium quinoa Willdenow
The root system of quinoa is taproot, very deep (even 180 cm) and branched which gives the plant both good stability and excellent drought resistance. Numerous secondary roots depart from the primary root. The root system takes on a different color depending on the soil in which it grows.
The quinoa stem is woody and erect with a height varying from 30 cm to 3 m. Branches can develop from the main stem. The diameter of the stem can vary from 1 to 8 cm depending on the genotype of the plant, the fertilizations and the seeding density. The color of the stem varies as the varieties and phenological phases vary, it can take on colors ranging from green to red (often streaked). The epidermis of the stem is cutinised. Inside there is a marrow that disappears when ripe, leaving the stem dry and empty.
The leaves are alternating. The petioles are long, thin and grooved. The length of the petioles and the shape of the leaves vary according to the variety but can also vary on the same plant. The leaf foil can have these shapes, for example: diamond, triangle, lanceolate, flat or wavy. The plant resists drought well as calcium oxalate crystals are contained within the leaves which reduce excessive perspiration. Depending on the position, the leaf can take on a different shape and size. At the base you can have large, rhomboid or triangular leaves, while in the upper parts the leaves can be small and lanceolate. Even the color of the leaves is very variable as it can be from green to red with different shades.
The young leaves before flowering, due to their high nutritional value containing mineral vitamins and proteins, are suitable for human consumption.
Linfiorescence is a typical panicle with a central, secondary and tertiary axis with pedicels that hold the glomeruli. Depending on the genotype and soil fertility, the panicle can have a length ranging from 30 to 80 cm in length and from 5 to 30 cm in diameter. The number of glomeruli per panicle varies from 80-120 and the number of seeds per panicle can go from 100 to 3000, with large cobs, yields of up to 500 grams of seed per inflorescence can be obtained.
The flowers are very small (maximum size of 3 mm), are devoid of petals, consist of a corolla made up of tepals and usually five green sepals. The flowers can be hermaphrodite, or there may be dioecious plants. The flowers are self-fertile and pollination in general is anemophilous (through the wind).
The fruit is a very small, roundish, flattened achene indiscent, with a diameter of about 2 mm, protected by the perigonium, which is the same color as the plant. The seed is also flattened, is obtained from ripe fruits without perigonium, can have an ellipsoidal, conical or spheroidal shape and can be white, beige, light yellow, light brown, red or black.
White Quinoa seeds - Chenopodium quinoa Willdenow (photo www.saporinuovi.it)
White, red and black quinoa (photo www.cerretosrl.it)
The most important requirements are climate, photoperiod, temperature, soil, soil pH and water.
Quinoa can be grown both in desert areas and in rainy and humid areas through cold climates.
Quinoa can be short day, long day and photo indifferent.
The average temperature suitable for quinoa is around 15-20 ° C, however it develops perfectly both at average temperatures of 10 ° C and 25 ° C.
The ideal soil for quinoa is silty, well drained and well endowed with organic matter, with moderate slopes, however, it adapts to clay or sandy soils, provided that there are nutrients (the plant is demanding in nitrogen and calcium, moderately demanding of phosphorus and potassium) and there are no problems of stagnation of water, since it is very sensitive to excessive humidity especially in the early stages of vegetation.
The pH is not a big problem for quinoa as it has been shown that good yields can be had in alkaline soils with pH up to 9, as well as in acidic conditions with pH equal to 4.5.
Quinoa is very efficient even if it is a C3 plant it can grow and give moderate yields with only 200-250 mm of rain per year.
The optimal conditions for sowing are when the soil has a temperature between 7 ° -10 ° C up to a maximum of 18-20 ° C and good humidity to facilitate seed germination
Quinoa seeds, like those of spinach, cannot germinate if the soil temperature is too high and to overcome this drawback it may be necessary to put them in the refrigerator (vernalization).
In our hemisphere the optimal date is between April and May with a seed density equal to 10 -12 Kg / ha.
The cultivation of quinoa in Italy shows the following limits: temperatures above 32-34 degrees even for a short time tend to cause pollen sterility in most crops; the increased rainfall and high atmospheric humidity cause the seeds that are still ripe to germinate.
Collection, production and use
The collection of quinoa must be done appropriately, not only to avoid losses due to the harmful effects of the climate and the attacks of birds, but also for the deterioration of the quality of the grain. It is not easy to identify the most suitable era for the collection; in fact the panicles on the same plant ripen at different times. The collection of quinoa usually begins with the fall of the leaves, when the seed is difficult to incise with the nail. The best way to determine if the seed is ready for harvesting is to gently but briskly shake the plant or by rubbing the pan in your hands to check if the seeds fall easily. Dried plants at this time take on pale yellow or red colors. During the seed ripening phase, quinoa is also very resistant to slight frosts. If at the maturity of the crop there is a period of high relative humidity (over 70%), the seeds are able to germinate within twenty-four hours, with the consequent loss of the crop or they can undergo oxidation and discoloration of the seed, with relative loss of quality. In wetlands such as the Ecuadorian Northern Sierra and southern Colombia, it is best to harvest quinoa during the dry season (June to September), thus avoiding the loss or deterioration of the seeds due to humidity. The collection period is generally between August and September in the northern hemisphere and between April and May in the southern hemisphere (Mujica et al., 2001). The collection of quinoa can be done, as well as manually, as already described, also through complete mechanization reducing the work phases from five to three:
- Drying and sorting
- Packaging and storage
In order to consume quinoa, a desaponification operation must be performed. It can be performed in different ways: with the dry method or with the wet method, or by combining the two previous methods. At the end of this process the quinoa is ready to be packaged and consumed as it is or sent for processing to obtain quinoa flakes for breakfast, flour and derivatives (bread, pasta ...), snacks, tempeh ...
Adversity and pests
Quinoa is prone to attack Aphis fabae (black bean aphid, particularly aggressive towards the chenopodiaceous during the vegetative phase) and di Nezara viridula (green bedbug) and other bugs in the seed ripening phase. The presence of ladybugs can limit and resolve the attack of aphids, otherwise lethal if left alone.