Food Culture, Literature, Uncategorized

Quinoa’s Surprising Uses

The Seed Stalk of the Quinoa Plant (Photo: Wayra)

Cuzco embraces a wide variety of plants. They illuminate its flower gardens and fields. People often plant herbs and other plants that have curative value besides beauty and nourishment. They plants are a glory of the city and countryside.

In every garden one finds mint, aloe vera, muña, and white malba, among others. These plants are used as medicines. But people also grow quinoa, potato, tumbo ( a relative of the passion fruit) and more. Besides being good to eat, these plants have medicinal and other functions. For example, they say tumbo is very good for your liver.

Quinua is another example. It is one of the most important foods and has deep cultural meaning from deep in the past. In every preparation, Quinoa pleases us. We use it, among many other dishes, in quinoa soup, chaufa of quinoa (a fried rice like dish) pesque de quinoa (a ground quinoa gruel), and finally as an herb tea. It has a marvelous flavor in every one of its preparations.

Quinoa Ready to Cook (Photo: Wayra)
Quinoa Ready to Cook (Photo: Wayra)

But, it might surprise you that quinoa has another use. Our mothers tell us that freshly harvested quinoa has a substance on it that comes off when the seeds are washed to prepare them for cooking that is good for personal hygiene. It is like a soap and is good for washing hair and clothes.

In the past, before industrial products were widely available, out ancestors used quinoa foam and liquid for their personal hygiene. In recognition of this scientists call the chemical that is on the seeds saponin. It causes all the frothing, and makes the quinoa bitter if not well washed. While this chemical protects the seeds from insects, it also made it even more valuable for human consumption.

To make a liquid soap with which to wash your hair or your clothes you have to first harvest the quinoa from the plants that sometimes can be quite tall. Then you soak the ripe seeds in water for a half hour. Once soaked, you rub the seeds between your hands in the water, vigorously, to rinse them of all the saponin. Sieve the seeds and reserve them for cooking. The water is now a liquid soap ready for you to use on your hair or on your clothes. You will be pleased at how well it works.

Heavy with Quinoa Seeds (Photo: Wayra)
Heavy with Quinoa Seeds (Photo: Wayra)

The process you take for washing your hair is the same we use now with shampoo. After washing it, rinse your hair. You will see that it is more fortified and radiant than when you wash it with shampoo. People say quinoa soap also impedes the loss of hair.

The process for washing clothes is about the same as with detergent, but this quinoa detergent is more effective they say, especially for colored clothes. With just a little stirring or agitating the clothes they come clean. Then you rinse them.

Even though we have this wonderful soap, more and more people are not using it. They seem to prefer the industrial products. But this may be because the quinoa that comes to market has already been washed to make it edible. As a result, unless you grow your own quinoa it is difficult to get the soap. The people who still use it are mostly those who live in the countryside and farm.

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