Quinoa has been a staple in the diets of Inca and Andean cultures that have lived in the surrounding regions of the Andes for hundreds of years, hence its claim to fame as an “Ancient Grain”.
But, did you know? Not all quinoa is the same.
Bolivia produces 46% of the world’s quinoa, 30% comes from Peru and 24% is sourced from countries like the US, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina combined.
Okay, so what’s the big deal? Surprisingly, geography is one of the biggest players in the quality, taste and nutritional value between each different varietal of the very same crop!
Let’s think about Champagne. Yes, that sweet bubbly drink used in celebrations all over the world. Technically Champagne, as a drink, refers to the very specific sparkling wines from the Champagne region in France. The word Champagne is reserved for this good, from this region and this region only. Think about it, have you ever had a glass of Champagne from Napa, California? Probably not.
Champagne gets its delicate flavors from the terroir in which it is grown. Terroir, which in French literally means soil or land, is more generally referred to in relation to food as “an area or terrain, usually rather small, whose soil and microclimate impart distinctive qualities to food products” (Barham).
We, at Alter Eco, think similarly about the quality and flavors of quinoa. Because the regions where quinoa varietals are grown have a huge impact on the crop, we wanted to break it down a little.
- Quinua Real or Royal Quinoa is only grown at around 12,000 feet above sea level in the areas surrounding the Solar de Uyuni, the dry, arid salt flats of the Bolivian Altiplano. This particular region in Bolivia has extremely harsh weather conditions and intense seasonality, making this crop incredibly durable. The result, a truly larger, rounder seed, that tastes nuttier and fluffier (once cooked) than any other quinoa varietal. The “Champagne of Quinoa”.
- Quinua Dulce grows in wet, more swamp like conditions of Lake Titicaca in Peru. This area contains one of the most diverse regions for quinoa to grow. That being said, it makes for a huge discrepancy in the final product. Some seeds may expand to be as fluffy as couscous, while other seeds may not and will remain slightly crunchy after cooking. This also can leave a bitter mouth taste, even after saponins are washed away.
The big picture…it’s in the terroir. Take a look at this map – the red circle indicates the Solar de Uyuni, the incredibly tiny region where only Royal quinoa is able to grow.
So, next time you find yourself gliding your fork through a freshly cooked batch of Royal quinoa, watch each round fluffy seed fall and remind yourself of the reasons why you chose that bag. Think about the effects your choice has on the flavors being absorbed into your extra fluffy quinoa salad. But most of all, enjoy and bon appétit!
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