by Steven Nyland, OrganicCrops. Posted on 05 January 2022, 12:15 hrs
It has been ten years since quinoa became a popular food in kitchens all over the world. Its popularity started in 2006/7 when restaurants incorporated the ancient grain into their menu. Because quinoa has a flavor and texture profile like no other grain, people immediately liked the new high protein product. Still it took a few years before quinoa made it to the shelfs of supermarkets. Nowadays it has become a staple product like rice and potatoes in a lot of kitchens all over the globe.
Quinoa (pronounced: keen-wah) is a seed. It originates from The Andes in South America where it has been known as a nutritious staple food for thousands of years. Originally, quinoa grows on the high plains of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. At altitudes up to 4000 meters, in a climate where most crops fail but quinoa thrives, the plant with its broad, slightly hairy leaves, can be cultivated in areas with temperatures ranging from -4 to 35 degrees Celsius.
Even though quinoa is a seed, it has a nutritional make-up of a grain and therefor it is often marketed as an Ancient grain. The quinoa plant (its binomial name is Chenopodium quinoa) is considered a pseudocereal and is related to spinach. The young leaves of the quinoa plant are used as a vegetable in soups and stocks in by the natives in Peru. The flavor of the leaves is stronger than spinach.
The Andes Altiplano produces approx. 120 million kg of quinoa per year of which 40% is organic. The majority of quinoa production is by small family farms, which are often organized into faming cooperations/communities. Quinoa is also cultivated in North America, UK, Holland, France, Spain, India, China and even Australia.
Peruvians and Bolivians have been consuming quinoa for hundreds of years. A popular dish is a hot breakfast drink made from quinoa and apple. Often with sugar and cinnamon added. Most mornings in Lima you’ll find many street vendors offering the hot quinoa drinks in plastic cups. The drink is named after the street vendor carts: "quinua carretillera".
Another popular quinoa dish consumed mostly in the Peruvian Andes regions is ‘quaker’ (pronounced: kwaacair). The porridge dish is often made with quinoa and oats or just with quinoa. Sometimes the quinoa is overcooked or ground to make it into a pap. The porridge is often sweetened with Panela (raw cane sugar). A popular version also has cacao, honey, cinnamon and nuts.
The Andean ancient grain has a distinct flavor profile which is loved by chefs around the world. The flavor is quite hearty, slightly nutty. It pairs well in salads, with red meats, as coatings or simply as an alternative staple instead of potatoes or rice. The darker colored quinoa’s (red, purple, black) have an even nuttier flavor and can be used were one would opt for brown rice. Black quinoa is best cooked al-dente and is an excellent complement to salads or dishes that need a playful touch.
Even though it’s nutritious benefits and unique flavor profile has been known since the 1980’s, when food writers in New York picked up on the Andean Grain, quinoa never reached the general public. Quinoa remained a niche health store product that was consumed by sports athletes, health conscious consumers, astronauts and used by some chefs in Latin American styled dishes.
Everything changed for quinoa in 2008. In that year Oprah Winfrey started her 21-day "cleanse diet" which featured "the complete food grain" Quinoa. Soon after, large retailers in the USA, such as Wholefoods, started promoting quinoa. Oprah’s did not know that her diet would change the lives of thousands of farming communities in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador as demand for the ancient grain increased rapidly.
When the United Nations announced "International year of Quinoa" in 2013, demand for this ‘new’ ancient superfoods increased by nearly 500% and quinoa became a gold-rush product for several years to come.
After nearly 10 years of producingand marketing quinoa the product (and market) has matured. Peru and Bolivia are still the main producers of quinoa with a market share of approx. 65-70%. Other producing countries such as China, India, USA and various European countries are gaining market share each year with innovative quinoa crops that are produced in less harsh environments and are cheaper and easier to harvest. The flavor profile and nutritional values of Andes Altiplano quinoa is still superior. Combined with the marketing value of "Andean grains" and "Superfoods from the Andes", quinoa from Peru and Bolivia continues to thrive.