Native crops of Peru – Quinoa
Quinoa is a crop that originated in the South American Andes of Peru and Bolivia and was domesticated by pre-Columbian civilizations more than 6,000 years ago. For the Inca civilization quinoa was a staple food, second in importance after the potato. Its ability to survive in high altitudes, from 2,800 up to 4,000 meters, intense heat, freezing temperatures and little rain, made it an important crop on which the population could rely becoming part of the culinary culture of Peru. Its nutritional properties sustained the Inca army in its long journeys. For those reasons, the Incas regarded the quinoa as a sacred food and referred to it as chisaya mama or mother grain..
chisaya mama or mother grain
As a tradition, during a ceremony, the Sapa Inca would plant the first seeds of the season using tools made of gold and request the God Inti for a good crop. Quinoa seeds have been found in burial grounds as food offerings for the dead, representing the importance the seed had in the diet of the native population. After 1532, Spanish conquerors prohibited the growth of quinoa as an attempt to control the native population and to destroy pagan ceremonies that undermined the Catholic faith. Quinoa production declined and was only cultivated in remote areas in the Andes for local consumption.
In theory quinoa is not a grain but it is used as a grain for its cooking attributes, it cooks like rice but requires a shorter cooking time. It is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) related to beets and spinach but grown primarily for its seeds. Its leaves are also edible but not commercially available. Quinoa seeds contain more nutrients than other cereals, 13% to 22% protein, high amounts of vitamins and minerals and low in fat. It contains all the necessary amino acids that the human body needs. For its nutritional value quinoa is called the Inca Gold. Long time part of the culinary culture of Peru, quinoa consumption has yet to pick up and today local government institutions are promoting its consumption to diminish malnutrition in Andean communities.
There are five basic varieties of quinoa and approximately 2000 species held in banks in Peru and Bolivia. The quinoa plant has an 8 month cycle from the sowing of the seeds to the harvest. In Andean villages the coating of the quinoa, called saponin, is used as an antiseptic to heal wounds.
To learn more about quinoa and other crops of the Andes I recommend these books:
More about Native Crops of Peru
They come in different shapes and colors, many shades of purple, blue, violet, pink, red, brown and yellow, pink with brown spots, yellow with pink spots and endless combinations.
The name Theobroma means “food of the gods” in Greek. Cacao comes from the word cacahuatl from the Nahuatl language used by the Aztecs.
Rediscovered in Peru, Pure Nacional was found growing in the valley of the Marañon Canyon.
Peru has a great variety of food due to its many microclimates and elevations and its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. It features one of the best cuisines in South America.