Quinoa is grown up and down the country in Chile, from the high plains of the Altiplano to the north with the Aymara people, to the central region with where many farmers descend from Spanish settlers, including in the south by Mapuche farmers. Its ability to be cultivated in such diverse environments make it interesting to the whole world. This ancient seed is native to the shores of Lake Titicaca in the Altiplano, it has been cultivated for approximately 7,000 years and has many benefits.
Quinoa is a cousin of the beet and spinach plants. Initially known as ‘grain of the poor’ in its native region, it is now a global star. It is categorized as a pseudocereal -as its seeds can be prepared to make flour, flakes or popped. Quinoa is also a ‘superfood’, as it is gluten free, rich in protein, antioxidants, vitamin B, trace elements and minerals. Paradoxically, it is the gluten free property that led the conquistadors to favour potatoes and corn over quinoa because the latter is not suited to baking.
However, this ‘superfood’ has made a great comeback on the food stage and has convinced the western world, the French for example eat 6,000 tonnes of quinoa per year. It was declared UN International Year of Quinoa 2013 because of its role in combating malnutrition in the world, to reinforce food safety, and improve biodiversity. NASA even sent some quinoa into space as food for the astronauts on the international space station in 2015.
3,000 varieties, 3 main families
Neighbouring countries, Peru, and Bolivia, grow 92% of the quinoa world production (229 million tonnes in 2015), which price doubled between 2006 and 2011, boosted by its popularity and growing world demand. Europe consumes 5,000 tonnes of quinoa per year, that is 25 times less than the United States. This figure continues to increase. ‘In addition to its nutritional properties, quinoa appeals to western consumers who want products from organic agriculture’, explains Didier Bazile who is a world specialist of quinoa. “Quinoa is organic because it grows at high altitude, where there are no pests, so it requires no pesticides.”
There are more than 3,000 varieties of quinoa, of which only a few are marketed, and more than 120 countries are currently experimenting its cultivation. There are 3 main ‘families’: white, the most popular and most consumed, black, and red quinoa. Red quinoa has a much coarser taste, reminiscent of hazelnut. Black quinoa is more earthy and is used in soups or salads. In France, we can cite the ‘Quinoa lasagne, barigoule artichoke bouillon’ by Nadia Sammut, ‘Fried wild mushrooms on red quinoa’ by Mauro Colagreco, or ‘Lake Leman fish, capers and quinoa’ by Emmanuel Renault in Megève. We are eager to see what the Bocuse d’Or contestants will create with the ‘mother of seed’.
The Bocuse d'Or Americas will be held on July 14th, at the Metropolitan Santiago in Chile.
© Pierre Bamin