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History of Quinoa

Last updated: Tuesday July 31st 2018

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) itself is a native to the Andean region of South America, and was first domesticated around 4,000 years ago in the region surrounding Lake Titicaca which straddles the borders of Peru and Bolivia.


Prior to domestication, people ate the leaves and seeds from quinoa.  The transition from ancient quinoa to what it has become today can be seen depicted on pottery found in tombs of ancient tribes.  Changes include a larger stem and seed, and increased pigmentation at the tip of the plant.

Throughout the region the Incas and the civilizations which preceded them found ways to grow resilient crops including quinoa in the unforgiving landscapes of the Andes mountains. To water their crops, irrigation canals and cisterns were built into the mountains and terraces to grow food were cut into the steep hillsides. Incredibly, prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s the Incas were cultivating an area of around one million hectares of crops which fed their vast empire. Quinoa was sacred to the Incas who considered it a gift from the gods and referred to it as “Chisaya Mama” meaning “Mother of All Grains”.

When the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his 158 men reached the Andes mountains in 1532, the Incan civilization was changed forever. Within the space of one year the Incan emperor was killed and people were forced into submission, religious ceremonies were forbidden, and all quinoa fields were destroyed with future cultivation banned. Instead, the fields were planted with wheat.  Only high in the Andes mountains hidden away from the conquistadores did the native people continue to cultivate quinoa on small plantations.

It was not until 2013 which was declared the “International Year of Quinoa” that world wide recognition of this ancient grain and the Andean peoples’ ancestral practices of preserving its integrity were brought forward.  Today, quinoa is commonly eaten and enjoyed across the globe and it’s all because of the hard work of the Andean people.

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