Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is a flowering plant in the amaranth family (Amaranthaceae). It is grown for its edible seeds which are rich in protein. Since quinoa is not a grass but the seeds are used very much like a cereal, it is considered a pseudo-cereal. Botanically, it is actually fairly closely rated to the food plats spinach, poor-mans asparagus and fat-hen since they belong to the same family.
Quinoa is native to the Andean region of South America. There are evidence of quinoa being used to feed livestock as far back as 5,200 – 7,000 years ago, while the earliest known instances of human consumption are dated to 3,000 – 4,000 years ago.
Who is the wild ancestor of the domesticated Chenopodium quinoa? That still remains unclear, but two educated guesses are C. berlandieri or C. hircinum. Chenopodium quinoa is generally considered to have been domesticated in the Peruvian Andes, although some evidence points to there being two different domestication events: one that took place in the high Andes and another one that occurred in the Chilean lowlands.
The name quinoa is derived from the Quechua languages, where quinoa is named kinwa or kinuwa.
Today, quinoa is farmed in over 70 different countries around the globe, including many places far away from the plant´s native range. It is for instance grown in India, Kenya and Spain. In the Andean region, quinoa farming is still chiefly carried out by very small-scale farms and associations.
The plant´s requirements vary depending on subspecies and cultivar, and it has been adapted for various growing conditions throughout its long history of being a cultivated food crop. A wide range of old landraces are still grown in South America and contain valuable genetic material.
The highest quinoa fields are found at an altitude of 4,000+ metres in the Andes near the equator, but a majority of the cultivation takes place at an elevation of 2,500 m – 4,000 m. To a smaller extent, quinoa farming also occur at lower altitudes than this, all the way down to and including coastal regions.
Most versions of quinoa are developed for regions where the temperate is not lower than -4 degrees C during the night and not higher than +35 degrees C during the day. If you want to grow quinoa where the temperature can drop even lower, you need to be more particular about selecting the right variant.
Quinoa plants can usually cope with a light frost, but if it occurs during flowering the pollen will become sterile.
Quinoa plants prefer sandy, well-drained soils but are renowned for not being very demanding. There are many cultivars and varieties available for specific conditions, e.g. when it comes to handling salinity in the soil. Quinoa is often cultivated in saline soils, low-nutrient soils, drought-stressed soils and other marginal lands.
The recommended pH-value is 6.0-8.5.
Waterlogging is negative, so prepare the seedbed to prevent this from occurring.
Fertilizing with phosphorus does not increase or elsewise improve the yield.
Rainfall requirements and preferences vary depending on the variety of quinoa. Some do well with just 300 mm of rain during the growing season, while others need or prefer considerably more – up towards 1,000 mm.
Getting well-distributed rains during early growth, and then a period of no rain during seed maturation and harvesting is perfect.
Harvesting quinoa seeds
Harvesting takes place when the moisture content of the grains has dipped below 10%.
It is important to time the harvest just right, to avoid large seed losses from shattering. This is complicated, since different panicles can mature at different times on the same plant. Because of this, hand-harvesting is still common, especially in South America. Outside South America, it is more common for farmers to plant quinoa varieties that have been selected for uniformity of maturity, which makes mechanical harvesting more feasible.
After threshing and winnowing, the seeds must be dried out to prevent germination.
The international demand for quinoa increased dramatically in the early 21st century and this is turn prompted a price boom. Between 2006 and 2014, the world market price for quinoa crops tripled. The main drivers of the demand were consumers in North America, Europe and Australasia. From 2015, there has been a price decline, chiefly due to increased production in the Andean highlands.
In the year 2019, the global production of quinoa exceeded 161,000 metric tonnes. The main producers were Peru and Bolivia, who combined accounted for 97% of total production.
Quinoa production in 2019 (in metric tonnes)
- Peru: 89,775
- Bolivia: 67,135
- Ecuador: 4,505