Two questions: How is the name of this foodstuff pronounced in English? Is it a grain?

1. Pronunciation. When I first came across the word quinoa, I gave it a spelling pronunciation:

(1) /kwɪnˈoə/

(in the phonemic transcription I prefer). Then I was corrected by a server at a local restaurant, who said

(2) /kinˈwa/

So I looked it up: NOAD2 supplied only

(3) /ˈkinwa/

but Wikipedia supplied (3) and an alternative

(4) /kɪnˈoə/

Version (3) appears to be the closest to the Quechua original kinua, kinoa. Version (2) looks like a Frenchification of (3), with accent shifted to the final syllable.

Version (4) is a rendition of the Spanish spelling quinoa, and (1) is a rendition of that spelling in English.

2. What is it? In particular, is it a grain?

The testimony of NOAD2:

a goosefoot found in the Andes, where it was widely cultivated for its edible starchy seeds before the introduction of Old World grains. [Chenopodium quinoa, family Chenopodiaceae.]

• the grainlike seeds of this plant, used as food and in the production of alcoholic drinks.

And of Wikipedia:

Quinoa …, a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium), is a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is a pseudocereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the true grass family. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beetroots, spinach and tumbleweeds.

Both insist on grainlike / grain-like, avoiding straightforward grain.

The complexity here starts with the fact that cereal, referring to plants or their parts, is only a technical term (picking out plants and fruits of the grass family). Grain, on the other hand, has both a technical usage, as a synonym of cereal, and an ordinary-language usage, covering a broader range of plants and their parts. From Wikipedia:

Grains are small, hard, dry seeds (with or without attached hulls or fruit layers) harvested for human or animal food. Agronomists also call the plants producing such seeds ‘grain crops’. Main types of commercial grain crops are cereals such as wheat and rye, and legumes such as beans and soybeans.

… Cereal crops are all members of the grass family [Poaceae]. Cereal grains contain much starch, a carbohydrate that provides dietary energy.

… In botany, grains and cereals are synonymous with caryopses, the fruits of the grass family. In agronomy and commerce, seeds or fruits from other families are called grains if they resemble caryopses. For example, amaranth is sold as “grain amaranth”, and amaranth products may be described as “whole grains”. The pre-Hispanic civilizations of the Andes had grain-based food systems but, in the higher elevations, none of the grains was a cereal. All three native grains are broad-leaved plants rather than grasses such as corn, rice, and wheat.

… Pseudocereal grains — Starchy grains from broadleaf (dicot) plant families: amaranth (Amaranth family), buckwheat (Smartweed family), quinoa

The complexity here was apparently created by botanists’ importing the ordinary-language term grain as a synonym for cereal.


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