Peru is undoubtedly one of the most biodiverse places on earth and, consequently, has a great variety of things to experience. Not only will you be able to enjoy wide biodiversity in Peru, but also a large number of unique and nutritious foods. And perhaps among all the foods available in Peru, the best known of them is the ancient cultivation of Quinoa. Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andean country for thousands of years. It was one of the main crops of the Incas, and a staple in the diet of the inhabitants. And being so important, you may have doubts. But have you ever wondered why quinoa is so popular? Or why is it considered a superfood? If so, together with Machu Travel Peru we have prepared a small article where we delve into Quinoa. Learn about the most important characteristics of this wonderful Peruvian food.
A guide to everything you need to know about quinoa
WHAT IS QUINOA?
Quinoa was known among the Incas as the “mother grain”. It is the seed of the Chenopodium Quinoa plant, which grows naturally in the Andean region of Peru. The plant is part of the Goosefoot family and can grow between three to seven feet tall. It is a plant that supports harsh climates, preferring colder temperatures characteristic of the Peruvian Andes. It’s also usually a fairly robust plant, being able to grow in fairly poor soils.
Often mistaken for whole grain, but it could actually be considered a pseudocereal. Putting it in another perspective, quinoa is a seed that acts like a grain. Being from the goosefoot family, the plant is more like spinach and beets than whole grains like wheat or oats. Both the seeds and the leaves of this plant are edible.
Quinoa is classified as one of the many Peruvian superfoods. Since it is not only gluten-free, but also has more protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber than any of the usual grains and seeds available.
Quinoa is an important part of Peruvian history. It originated in the highlands of Bolivia and Peru. Surprisingly, the seed was initially used only to feed livestock. But then humans also started using it for their own consumption. There is not much archaeological or linguistic evidence for quinoa. Nor are there too many religious rites associated with the use of grain. But some findings in the Ayacucho area suggest that the domestication of quinoa occurred in 5000 BC. Quinoa has also been found in different tombs in the regions of Peru.
Within ancient civilizations such as the Incas and the pre-Inca, it was a food with a leading role. For both modern Quechua and Aymara peoples, it continues to be so today. In fact, the harvest is used as much as for the nutrition of the people as a sacred element during the different rituals. It can be offered as a tribute at many religious festivals. If you are lucky, within the many tours in Peru, you will be able to know this incredible food.
The conquerors destroyed most of the Quinoa fields during the conquest. And the colonizers discarded this food by bringing their own grains. The wheat and barley of Europe were considered better dice that were easier to grow and much more fruitful. So the food lost much of its importance during the following years. But the different isolated Andean villages continued with their traditional crops. Today, with its recognition and its great demand in European countries, it is one of the number one products in Peru.
There are over 1800 subspecies of this ancient Inca crop, and the seeds come in a wide variety of colors. Generally, the most common colors in this plant are white, red, and black. But these amazing seeds can also be seen in purple, pink, gray, orange, and yellow colors. With the growing popularity of this food and its large crops, many varieties of quinoa have been forgotten. Export demand has focused on very few of the many different varieties, leading farmers to abandon many of these other unknown varieties. But in general, among quinoa you can find the following varieties:
- WHITE QUINOA
This white seed is one of the best-known and most widespread varieties in the world. It has a light flavor, it cooks faster and its texture is fluffy and pleasant. Unlike the red and black varieties, this white seed is not crunchy at all. One of the most classic varieties within Peruvian gastronomy.
- RED QUINOA
The red seed has a much more pronounced and rich flavor that closely resembles walnuts. It also has a much softer texture and tends to retain its characteristic shape after cooking. It is a great option to use in salads.
- BLACK QUINOA
Unlike the other varieties, this seed has a more earthy and sweet flavor. It has a texture quite similar to that of the red variety and usually maintains its characteristic color after cooking.
Today, this ancient Inca seed is used in a wide variety of traditional dishes, both sweet and savory. And with great nutritional value, it is not surprising that it appears even in fusion food recipes. A clear example is the Chaufa de Quinoa, this iconic dish is not very different from what everyone knows. Nowadays chefs try to renew and revolutionize their different dishes. Many times you will see international dishes with iconic traditional touches. And quinoa has a strong role in this regard. But we also recommend that you try the popular quinoa salad, quinoa soup, and quinoa stew. Very popular options in the Andean regions and recipes that you will have to learn to take home!
“NEVER EAT ANYTHING YOU CAN’T PRONOUNCE. EXCEPT FOR QUINOA, YOU SHOULD EAT QUINOA.”
As you will see, quinoa is a food with great benefits and properties that you should not rule out knowing and trying. And with its great international demand, you can find it in any supermarket or health food store. The safest thing is that you can find it in your country of origin. But if you are looking to taste and enjoy the real quinoa, you have to travel to Peru. You will have options of incredible dishes and to buy this incredible food from its true source. Together with Machu Travel Peru, we hope we have been of help. If you want to know more about where this ingredient is grown, you can ask our team. Our qualified advisors will be happy to help you learn more about our culture and tradition.