quinoa plant

At OPIKA, we are always querying the origins of any food that we carry in our market and restaurant. Today, we are investigating the origins of Quinoa, a “superfood” of the 21st century.

Andes mountain

Andes Mountain

Most of the world’s quinoa is grown on the altiplano, a vast, cold, windswept, and barren 4,000 meters Andean plateau spanning parts of Peru and Bolivia. Quinoa (pronounced ‘kwee-nah’), is on of the few things that grow there.

The ‘King of all Quinoas’ is the Bolivian Organic Royal Quinoa, a unique type of quinoa that grows well only in Bolivia. Organically cultivated by farmers using high quality seeds, Bolivian Organic Royal Quinoa is highly nutritious. Grown in a pristine cool environment, the plant is nourished by rich volcanic soil, fresh water and pure mountain air of the Andean Mountain Plateau. Bolivian Organic Royal Quinoa has been highly treasured as a staple food by the Incas and other South American tribes back in the 1500s. This is why since antiquity, quinoa is known as the ‘Mother of All Grains’, however, technically quinoa is not a true grain but is a seed of a Goosefoot plant (see below Goosefoot plant or also known as Chenopodium). It is used as a grain or substituted for grains because of its cooking characteristics.

The UN has declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa, saying it has the potential to advance food security around the globe and prevent malnutrition. In fact, quinoa is so nutritionally complete that NASA has considered it as astronaut food for long space rides. It’s a favorite of vegetarians because it’s so high in protein, and because it’s a rare plant-based food that contains a full complement of amino acids. Quinoa has an excellent balance of oil, fat and protein. It has all the essential amino acids for our body, including lysine (which is rare among vegetable protein). It also contains vitamin E, thiamine (Vitamin B1) and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium and potassium.

With all the goodness in a “seed”, we wanted to see for ourselves how the farmers cultivate this old world grain. We took a trip to Bolivia to visit the Quinoa farmers.
We were met with a breathtaking view of the fields of flowering plant painted the rugged landscape yellow, green and red.

colours of quinoa

We asked the guide how Quinoa was discovered and he told us that it stems from a legendary tale.
The story…
The Uros, a pre-Incan indigenous people who live on a 42 man-made floating islands made of reeds on Lake Titcaca, a lake in the Andes Mountains on the border of Peru and Bolivia, has a legend about mythical mountain gods and goddesses.


In those days, mountains could talk and walk. Al the mountains were males except for one female. This female mountain, by the name of Thunupa, was very beautiful and flirtatious. All the sacred mountains were her suitors and among them were Illimani and Sajama. These tow large mountains fought with slings and Sajama was defeated. His head was ripped off and landed in the Altiplano plain where it became a volcano still bearing his name. His headless body was named ‘Mururata’ which means beheaded in the Ayamara language. Illimani then persued after Thunupa all over the Altiplano plain.
Fearing the worst treatment from Illimani, Thunupa ran because she was pregnant with Sajama’s child. When she arrived at the Southern part of the Altiplano, near to the present, Bolivia, she gave birth to a baby girl. In order, to expedite her escape from Illimani, Thunupa requested her mother, Pachamama, who was actually Mother Earth to take care of her baby. At that time of the year, there no natural crops and foods, Thunupa promised her special magical plant that would produce seeds that have nutritional values similar to a mother’s milk. This plant became known as Royal Quinoa since it was used to feed the royal child of this mountain goddess. The daughter became the tiny Colchani volcano which has a strikingly similarity in appearance to the Thunupa mountain.

Collection Point

collection point

And during the Incan dynasty, the early settlers of the Andes cultivated quinoa with their expert agriculturists and used exceedingly innovative techniques to cross breed different species of wild Quinoa and produced exceptionally nutritious plant known as the Royal Quinoa. When the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Incan empire in the 1500s, they considered quinoa as pagan food and disapproved of mass cultivation of quinoa plants. For 400 years, the production of Quinoa dropped and it became a neglected crop produced only in small amounts by villages in remote mountainous areas.
In 1960, the Bolivian government sought ways to improve the diet of its population, the experts began to research on quinoa and found it to have the most ideal nutritional attributes.

market area

market area

Fast track to today, there are 10 varieties of Royal Quinoa – which are only produced in Bolivia – harvested from 90,000 hectares of land belonging to family farms situated particularly in the district of Oruro and Potosi, in the region of the salt flats of Uyuni and Coypaza. The Andes region is taking greater significant as the grain basket of the world, thanks to its micro-climates in different levels of the mountains. There are 250 varieties of potatoes and 350 varieties of corn seeds. And now quinoa is becoming a very popular among the health-conscious and sports enthusiasts.

As 2013 is International Year of Quinoa, show your support by cooking a little Quinoa today or try our OPIKA Quinoa Salad or 8-treasure porridge which is combined with 7 other nutritious grains.


Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad

Cooking Tips:

Bolivian Organic Royal Quinoa is an ideal substitute for rice. You can cook it like the way you cook your rice – with rice cooker or over a fire. Combine 1 part of Bolivian Organic Royal Quinoa with 2 parts of water or soup stock (we prefer soup stock). Cook with slow fire until the water has evaporated. This will take about 15 to 20 minutes. Check whether the quinoa is tender before turning off the power source. You may add salt for flavouring. Serve it with other dishes in place of rice.
Alternatively, prepare it as an infant cereal to feed your baby.
Adding Bolivian Organic Royal Quinoa into your stew or soup is a great way to thicken the content which at the same time boost the nutritional value of your meal.
Depending on your creativity, you can create a wide variety of recipes from this ‘King of all Quinoas’