Some similarities to : Fat-Hen, Good King Henry,
Spear-Leaved Orache ,
Purple Orache and several other members of the same Chenopodiaceae family, but in all cases none has such a dense and clustered flowering spike that looks so very mealy. In many cases the colour may give it away, which varies from emperor purple (as here) to deep red, muddy orange, browns and yellows, depending upon variety. Quinoa has been cultivated into many differing varieties, but wild specimens may still be around, somewhere.
No connection with :
Quinine [an alkaloid with a similar name].
Quinoa, variously pronounced as 'keen-wa', 'kwi-noh' and even 'kee-noah', is a 'lost crop' of the Incas, and is now grown in various parts of the world (such as Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile) as a staple food. The flowers seeds are rolled, sorted, soaked in water and washed repeatedly to remove the coating which contains poisonous bitter tasting saponins. The result is a dried product not un-like sago in appearance. Several varieties are distinguished by the colour of the lumpy grains, with varieties varying from black, though a golden sand colour to white. Unfortunately, due to its' increasing popularity in the richer west, the price of Quinoa has shot up over four-fold and is now beyond the means of most of the indigenous people in the South Americas who need it the most; it is not now a food of mass consumption like noodles or rice. It is high in protein and amino acids such as
lycine. It is cooked and eaten like a cereal. It can be boiled like rice or toasted. The grains can be ground into a flour from which tortillas, bread or porridge can be made. Rated as a 'superfood' by many because of its extremely high content of nutritious substances, which includes nine essential amino acids, it is very rich in protein and has few carbohydrates. Now commercially grown in the UK since 2012 on a farm in Shropshire.
Similar species are also edible and have been used as a food, such as Fat-Hen,
Pitseed Goosefoot, Good King Henry and
The flowers are without petals. In Quinoa there are three basic flower types: hermaphrodite, chlamydeous female and achlamydeous female, but these types can be further sub-divided into ten depending upon their arrangement and upon the number of divisions of the dichasium on the glomerate. This constitutes the Gynomonoecy in Quinoa. [no, the Author has no idea what it is talking about either].
The flowers are in spikes (more correctly panicles), closely clustered together and can exhibit a range of differing colours varying from yellow, orange, brown, red, deep red - or emperor purple as in the above examples. Indeed, this was the main reason it took the author so long to recognise the above as Quinoa plants, since most illustrations of them are with brown, muddy orange or light brown infloresecences; with emperor purple being more typical of
Amaranth flowers. But the flowers of
Amaranth are not the same shape as those of Quinoa. The fruits are about 2mm across and vary in colour from white, to red to black depending upon the particular cultivar.
Another similar cereal can be prepared from the seeds of
Amaranth but these are of one colour, light yellow.
Besides the poisonous bitter-tasting saponins in the fruit casing, the leaves also contain high levels of poisonous Oxalic Acid, which is typical of many plants in the Chenopodiaceae family.
BETALAINS - AMARANTHINE & ISOAMARANTHINE
A dye called 'Hopi Red Dye' can be extracted from Quinoa, indeed many other Amaranth species yield such betalaine dyes, which are so unlike other plants anthocyanin dyes. Betalaine dyes such as
Amaranthine and its stereoisomer
IsoAmaranthine are important betacyanin dyes from Amaranth species based upon the Betanidin core shown in black). The red is a glucosyl group, whilst the orange moiety is one of Glucuronic Acid, which is
Glucose with an additional =O group.
The blue 15 marks the carbon atom where the stereoisomeric group of IsoAmaranthine lies; the -H and -COOH on that carbon atom swap places in the stereoisomer IsoAmaranthine
The dye 'Amaranth' is totally artificially created since it contains three sulfate groups and is a dark-red to purple azo dye once used to colour foodstuffs and cosmetics but was banned by the American FDA in 1976 because it is a suspected carcinogen. It is apparently still used in England to colour glace cherries their distinctive translucent colour.
Being a triple sodium sulphate salt of the Azo of two Naphthalene moieties it is totally synthetic, having nothing whatsoever to do with any Amaranth plant species, save perhaps that the colour may be a similar red. It was no doubt called Amaranth because it was a more permanent dye substitute for Amaranthine.