Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is new to many North Americans, but the people of Bolivia have enjoyed its nutritional benefits for five thousand years. Those who are just becoming familiar with this superfood may think that all quinoa is the same. Some have heard that the only differences involve the color of the seeds. However, quinoa has flourished across Bolivia for millennia and now comprises at least 140 different varieties.
On the Shores of Lake Titicaca
Scientists believe that quinoa cultivation arose about 3000 BCE on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which is located on the border of Bolivia and Peru. Near Chiripa, archaeologists have found evidence that quinoa farming techniques shifted beginning in 800 BC. Many believe this proves that native populations began testing their farming methods to improve production and better exploit the unique properties of the land.
As quinoa cultivation spread out from its original home, native populations, including the Quechua and Aymara peoples, developed quinoa strains more suited to local conditions. These new strains helped make quinoa the mother grain of the Inca Empire that arose in the 13th century.
Altiplano Salt Flats
Lake Titicaca sits high in the Andes mountains with its surface 12,500 feet above sea level. This lake empties into the Altiplano plateau that is home to many lakes, both fresh and saltwater, and salt flats. Apart from the lakes, his land is often dry and forbidding. Few crops survive here, but one crop thrives.
The salt flat area of southern Bolivia has given rise to a distinctive “quinoa real” strain that grows into considerably larger seeds and has been prized by many for its superior quality and unique nutritional profile.
Bolivian Quinoa Reigns Supreme
In recent years, many have tried growing quinoa outside of South America, but few have met with much success. Bolivian quinoa grows at a high altitude where temperatures rarely exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The close proximity of the equator to its native habitat means the quinoa plant is accustomed to days that are more evenly divided between light and dark than many other countries that have attempted quinoa cultivation. In addition, the salt flat quinoa strains, including quinoa real, are uniquely adapted to the higher saline content in the soil.
These larger seeds with their distinctive flavor are sought by those who seek a gourmet quinoa experience. Quinoa real seeds from Bolivia bring the best of the superfood known as “chisaya mama” (mother grain) to discerning cooks around the world.
©2012 Tammi Kibler