Quinoa domestication and consumption dates back roughly 3,000 to 6,000 years BCE. It is a native plant of the Andean region and was a staple in the diets of Colombians, Peruvians, Bolivians and other inhabitants of the area surrounding Lake Titicaca. Archaeologists have unearthed quinoa in tombs of the Tarapacá region of Chile.
Quinoa refers to a whole plant, Chenopodium quinoa, a goosefoot genus. It is a member of the amaranth family and is a distant relative of spinach. The actual product sold for eating is the quinoa plant's seed, shorn of its bitter coating.
Quinoa possesses components that qualify its seed as something like a cereal, or pseudocereal. It was a nutritional cornerstone in the diet of the Incas, who referred to it as the "mother grain." To commence each growing season, the Incan emperor broke ground with a gold rod.
By the time the Spanish arrived in South America in the 16th century, the Incan tradition of growing quinoa was highly evolved, even more so than that of growing corn or potatoes. Pedro de Valdivia was the first Spaniard to note the growing of quinoa and how the Incas tended to sow quinoa even among other plants.
The word "quinoa" is a phonetic Spanish translation of a Quechua word whose precise meaning is lost.