For the enthusiastic foodie delving into new cuisines, exploring unfamiliar recipes, and striving to expand their culinary boundaries, it’s fairly common to encounter unfamiliar terms or ingredients you’ve never heard of before.
That’s the goal, in fact, if growth is what you’re after! But every growing period comes with its own unique growing pains — in this case, that may include struggling to figure out how to pronounce new words so you can ask for help finding them at the grocery store or discuss your new favorite recipe with family and friends.
The struggle is real, but you’re not alone — we’re here to help. This article is the first installment in a series dedicated to helping you gain confidence when pronouncing notoriously tricky culinary words.
We’ll uncover their etymology, history, and any regional pronunciation variants to help you confidently incorporate these terms into your vocabulary, as well as your diet. Today’s word: quinoa!
Quinoa became hugely popular in regions outside South America in the early to mid-2010s, deemed superior to many other grains as a high-protein, gluten-free ingredient that filled the same role. It didn’t hurt its popularity when quinoa was also deemed a superfood. With all those health benefits, who wouldn’t want to try it out?
Unfortunately, since many were encountering the ingredient for the first time, great confusion ensued around how to actually say quinoa. In 2020, over 1,300 folks in the UK alone were searching online for tips on how to pronounce the word every month.
Among the most common mispronunciations are “kin-oh-a” and “quin-oh-ah”.
Of course, a word’s origin is often the key to understanding how to pronounce it. So what is quinoa’s story and how do we actually say this word correctly?
Quinoa’s origin story and etymology
Quinoa is an edible seed that comes in over 120 varieties, including white, yellow, red, and black. It’s been cultivated for approximately 5,000 years and is native to an area of South America known as the Andean region, which includes the countries Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru.
The English word “quinoa” stems from two languages prevalent in this region – Quechua and Spanish.
The Quechua peoples are an indigenous population of what is now known as the Peruvian Andes region. In Quechua, a pre-Colombian language family that over 8 million people still know today, the word for quinoa is kinuwa or kinwa and is pronounced “keen-u-wa”.
The Spanish word for this seed, a more familiarly spelled quinua, is derived from the original Quechua word. When spoken, they sound quite similar, though the ‘u’ sound is softened somewhat, becoming “ki-nua”. The word loses that ‘u’ sound almost completely as it becomes Anglicised.
When translated from Spanish to English, the official pronunciation of quinoa is simply ‘keen-waa’.
Now that you’re well versed in quinoa’s story, grab some at your local supermarket and experiment with it in your cooking! Here are 7 traditional Peruvian dishes that use quinoa—enjoy the health benefits of this superfood while learning how it was used in its native cuisine!