FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is quinoa?
Quinoa was a staple food of the ancient civilizations of the Andes of South America and is mainly grown in the Andean Countries of Peru and Bolivia. It is sometimes called a pseudo-cereal because of its grain-like appearance and sometimes a pseudo-oilseed because of its high content of fat*.
The taxonomic classification is:
– Kingdom: Plantae
– Order: Caryophyllales
– Family: Amaranthaceae
– Subfamily: Chenopodioideae
– Genus: Chenopodium
– Specie: Chenopodium quinoa Willd.
Because of its high nutritional value, indigenous peoples and researchers often refer to it as “the golden ‘grain’ of the Andes.”
What does quinoa taste like?
Quinoa has a very delicate taste, often described as nutty or earthy. Quinoa contains saponins, which are normally removed mechanically prior to being sold, or otherwise need to be carefully rinsed off prior to cooking to remove their bitter taste. Quinoa has an interesting texture that can add crunchiness to almost any recipe. Quinoa can be classified into “bitter” and “sweet” varieties that reflect the saponin content, which is much lower in the sweet varieties.
Why the International Year of Quinoa?
The year 2013 has been declared “International Year of Quinoa” (IYQ) by the United Nations in recognition of the indigenous peoples of the Andes, who have maintained, controlled, protected and preserved quinoa as food for present and future generations thanks to their traditional knowledge and practices of living in harmony with nature.
In declaring 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa”, the UN General Assembly also pointed out quinoa´s nutritional qualities and its adaptability to different agro-ecological conditions, with FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva calling it a ¨ally in the fight against hunger and food insecurity¨ at the official launch of the International Year of Quinoa at UN Headquarters (New York, 20 February 2013).
Why quinoa - what are its distinct properties?
Quinoa is known for its:
- Adaptability to climatic conditions, different quinoa varieties are known to grow in a temperature range from -4 degrees to 35 degrees Celsius* and from sea level to 4000 meters above sea level.
- Hardiness. Certain quinoa varieties can grow under difficult conditions, as they are drought tolerant and resistant to salinity. Quinoa grows in highlands and in lowlands**, thus proving its versatility as a real climate-smart crop.
- Low production costs.
- Environmentally friendly: Quinoa’s great adaptability to climate variability and its efficient use of water make it an excellent alternative crop in the face of climate change***.
- Nutritional qualities: Quinoa is a healthy food due to its high nutritional value. What distinguishes quinoa from most other plant foods, except for legumes, is its high protein content ****. Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids and is also rich in minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and other nutrients.
- Praised by NASA as an ideal crop for inclusion in possible future long-term space missions when crops would need to be grown on a spacecraft*****.
- Ethical qualities: In the Andes, production remains family-based and mostly organic, conferring an elevated fair-trade/super food’s image. Quinoa promotes a ‘healthy image’: whole grain, gluten-free, fair trade and organic. Production has increased the income of lower-income farmers in the semi-arid Andes highlands, especially in the last few years.
Is quinoa a nutritious food?
Yes. Quinoa is considered a nutritious food because it is a good source of many nutrients, which when consumed with other foods can be a great part of a balanced diet. Quinoa is most known for its protein content. Compared to other plant foods, quinoa is generally higher in protein than most grains as shown in the table, while lower in protein than most legumes. Quinoa also has a favorable balance between its essential amino acid content compared to other plant foods. Finally, quinoa is a good source of energy and dietary fiber and has significant amounts of minerals such as iron and zinc.
Where is quinoa grown today?
The geographic distribution of world quinoa production is shown in Figure 1. The highest level of production takes place in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, extending from 5° north latitude to 43° south latitude. Its altitudinal distribution ranges from sea level to 4000 meters above sea level (MASL), where the greatest genetic diversity is found in the Altiplano (high plain) regions of Bolivia and Peru. The ability of different varieties of quinoa to be grown at different altitudes and climate zones are what gives quinoa great potential to improve food security.
The ability of different quinoa varieties to adapt to different zones has led to experimental trials in different potential quinoa producing countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. It has been successfully grown to date in the United States, Morocco, Kenya, and India, to name a few, with hopes of eventual large-scale commercial production.
Figure 1. Geographic distribution of world quinoa production.
Countries with greatest quinoa production
Countries with potential for quinoa production
How long does it take for quinoa to grow?
It usually takes 160-180 days from sowing for quinoa to reach harvest maturity*.
How is quinoa typically eaten?
The quinoa grain has both traditional and non-traditional uses, as well as value-added industrial innovations which are now commercially available, such as ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, granola bars, or bread. The whole grain can be boiled and combined with other foods as part of a meal, such as in a soup, or made into flour to be used to make pieces of bread or drinks, among other food types*.
How much quinoa is produced in the world?
Until 2008, Peru and Bolivia accounted for 92 percent of the quinoa produced in the world*. Recent FAO production numbers from 2011 indicated that Peru and Bolivia produced respectively about 41,000 and 38,000 metric tons. While Peru and Bolivia remain the main producers of quinoa, production has also been occurring in the United States, Ecuador, and Canada, which constitute the majority of reported quinoa production outside of Peru and Bolivia.
Below is a figure with referential data for quinoa production for the Andes region according to the FAOSTAT database (2013).
What else can quinoa be used for, apart from eating?
Animal Feed: The whole plant is used as green forage. Harvest residue is also used to feed cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, and poultry.
Medicinal Use: Quinoa leaves, stems, and grains have been used traditionally by the indigenous peoples of the Andes for medicinal purposes: healing wounds, reducing swelling, soothing pain (a toothache) and disinfecting the urinary tract. They are also used in the bone setting, internal bleeding, and as insect repellents.
Nutraceutical Use: A quinoa protein concentrate which is food- or pharmaceutical-grade has the potential use as an ingredient in human or animal nutrition supplements.
Pharmaceutical Use: Saponins extracted from the bitter quinoa variety have properties that can induce changes in intestinal permeability and assist in the absorption of particular medications.
Industrial Uses: Quinoa starch has excellent stability in freeze-thaw conditions, and could provide an alternative to chemically modified starches*. The starch has special potential for industrial use because of the small size of the starch grain, for example in aerosol production, pulps, self-copy paper, dessert foods, excipients in the plastics industry, talcs and anti off-set powders.
In addition to the industrial use of the quinoa grain, the saponins from the pericarp of the bitter quinoa variety have the ability to be used in different beneficial forms. The saponins extracted from the pericarp of bitter quinoa form a foam in aqueous solutions, leading to possible applications in detergents, toothpaste, shampoos, or soaps.**The use of saponin as a bio-pesticide was also shown to have potential in a successful demonstration carried out in Bolivia.***