Chenopodium quinoa (and a related species from Mexico, Chenopodium nuttalliae) is most familiar as a fully domesticated plant, but it was believed to have been domesticated in the Andes from wild populations of Chenopodium quinoa. There are non-cultivated quinoa plants (Chenopodium quinoa var. melanospermum) which grow in the same area where it is cultivated; those are probably related to quinoa's wild predecessors, but could instead be descendants of cultivated plants.
The first step in preparing quinoa is to remove the saponins, a process that requires soaking the grain in water for a few hours, then changing the water and resoaking, or rinsing it in ample running water either in a fine strainer or in cheesecloth. Removal of the saponin helps with digestion; the soapy nature of the compound makes it act as a laxative. Most boxed quinoa has been pre-rinsed for convenience.
A common cooking method is to treat quinoa much like rice, bringing two cups of water to a boil with one cup of grain, covering at a low simmer and cooking for 14–18 minutes or until the germ separates from the seed. The cooked germ looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it (like al dente pasta). As an alternative, one can use a rice cooker to prepare quinoa, treating it just like white rice (for both cooking cycle and water amounts).
Vegetables and seasonings can also be added to make a wide range of dishes. Chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for water during cooking, adding flavor. It is also suited to vegetable pilafs, complementing bitter greens like kale.
Quinoa can serve as a high-protein breakfast food mixed with honey, almonds, or berries; it is also sold as a dry product, much like corn flakes. Quinoa flour can be used in wheat-based and gluten-free baking.
Quinoa may be germinated in its raw form to boost its nutritional value. Germination activates its natural enzymes and multiplies its vitamin content. In fact, quinoa has a notably short germination period: Only 2–4 hours resting in a glass of clean water is enough to make it sprout and release gases, as opposed to, e.g., 12 hours overnight with wheat. This process, besides its nutritional enhancements, softens the grains, making them suitable to be added to salads and other cold foods.