Quinoa: All Facts you Need to Know

2013 was declared as the “International Year of Quinoa” by the United Nations in order to recognize the ancestral practices of the peoples of the Andes around this cereal since the time of our ancestors. Traditions that have allowed to maintain quinoa as the basis of food in many of these areas, great, isn’t it?

In this blog you’ll learn what quinoa is, what are its characteristics, types, benefits, history, how is the cereal industry in the world, how it is cultivated, and what are the by-products made from quinoa.

What is quinoa and what are its characteristics? 

Scientific nameChenopodium quinoa Willd.
Common nameQuinoa, quinua, arrocillo, trigo inca, kiuna, jupa, among others.
Place of originSouth America
HabitatIt grows in different places thanks to its genetic variability.
DistributionIt grows mainly in countries of the Americas, although it also grows in regions of Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

Quinoa is a cereal that belongs to the Chenopodiaceae family and is defined as an annual plant, that is to say, its entire life cycle takes place in a single year. Below, we show you the physical characteristics of the quinoa plant for you to get to know it a little better.

Botanical characteristics of quinoa 


The quinoa plant can reach heights of 0.5 to 3.0 meters. Initially, the stem can have different colors such as green, yellow with green tones, purple, pink, orange or red. Sometimes they have small spots of different colors, but when the plant is mature, the stem turns beige or pink in different intensities.


The leaves show diverse colors; on the one hand, the leaf stalk (petiole) can be pink, green, purple or red, and on the other, the leaf itself can have these colors, as well as yellow, orange or green leaves with purple tones. The entire leaf is covered by small hairs that help absorb water from the environment.


The quinoa flowers can be 15 to 70 cm long. They are grouped in clusters at the tip of the stem of the plant. In addition, the flowers are formed at the beginning of the leaf stalks, so it can be observed that the quinoa plant has many flowers.

Quinoa: the fruit 

The fruit of quinoa is generally called or classified as a seed, they are round and can measure between 1.5 to 3 mm in diameter. As you have observed, the parts of the quinoa plant have a wide range of colors, and the fruit is no exception: grains are white, yellow, purple, red, pink, orange, among many others. They can have a bitter, sweet or semi-sweet flavor, depending on the variety.

What types of quinoa are there? 

Quinoa is a very varied cereal, so here we show you how it is usually classified and some kinds of quinoa that are marketed. Let’s continue!

Quinoa classification 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), quinoa can be classified as follows:

  1. Sea level quinoa: these plants often grow in Chile. They can reach up to 1 to 1.4 m high and their grains are generally cream-colored.
  2. Valley quinoa: they are so called as they grow in the inter-Andean valleys of the Andes, ranging from 2500 to 3500 meters above sea level. They can grow over 2.4 meters high and are resistant to mildew, one of the deadliest diseases for quinoa.
  3. Quinuas of the altiplano: in contrast to the previous one, these plants can be 0.5 to 1.5 meters high and are highly sensitive to the mildew disease. They grow mostly between 3600 to 4000 meters above sea level.
  4. Quinuas of the sun: found in desert areas that have about 300 mm of rainfall, they are characterized by having large grains of more than 2.2 mm in diameter.
  5. Quinuas of the yungas: the plants can grow approximately 2.2 meters high. They are commonly green when immature and turn orange when mature, both the flowers and the grains.

Curious fact:

The Andean region contains one of the areas with the greatest genetic diversity of quinoa, both wild and cultivated.

Types of quinoa 

Quinoa grains can vary in color and it is worth mentioning that this changes when the outer layer is removed for marketing, the most consumed in the global market is white. They can also vary according to the size and color of the plant, among other factors. There are a great number of variants of this cereal, and below you can see a table with some of the different types of quinoa.

Variety nameCharacteristicsDistribution
Achachino o ayrampuThe plants of this type of quinoa are green when ripe and then the flowers turn red and the stem pink. The whole grain, i.e., with the outer husk, is red but remains white when refined.Mainly in Bolivia
BlackAt maturity, black quinoa plants are green and then the stalk turns brown; the flowers can be black or brown. Therefore, the grain obtained is black, even if it is refined.Mainly in Bolivia 
Phisanqalla hembraThey have a late vegetative cycle of about 172 days. The plant has brown and red colors when ripe. Freshly harvested beans are red and when refined, they are completely brown. The beans are also large, about 2.2 mm in diameter.Mainly in Bolivia 
PasankallaThe plants can be between 1.30 to 1.40 meters high. Its stem is green with purple spots, the leaves are green and the flowers are purple. When the grain does not undergo any process it is purple, but when it is refined it is white.Mainly in Peru 
HualhasThe stem of the plant is green with gray spots and the flowers are yellow. The grains of this type of quinoa are beige and become white when refined.Mainly in Peru 

What are the benefits of quinoa on health? 

Nutritional chart of quinoa 

To start, let’s take a look at a nutritional table for 100 g of uncooked quinoa taken from the United States Department of Agriculture (2019).

Nutritional information of Quinoa 
Serving: 100 grams of quinoa 
Water13,3 gramos
Energy368 calorías
Protein14,1 gramos
Total Lipids (Fats)6,07 gramos
Carbohydrates64,2 gramos
Fiber7 gramos
Calcium47 miligramos
Iron4,57 miligramos
Magnesium197 miligramos
Phosphorus457 miligramos
Potassium563 miligramos
Sodium5 miligramos
Zinc3,1 miligramos
Copper0,59 miligramos
Manganese2,03 miligramos
Selenium8,5 microgramos
Thiamine0,36 miligramos
Riboflavine0,318 miligramos
Niacine1,52 miligramos
Panthotenic acid0,772 gramos
Vitamin B60,487 miligramos
Folate184 microgramos
Folic acid0 microgramos
Coline70,2 miligramos
Betaine630 miligramos
Vitamin B120 microgramos
Vitamin A1 microgramos
Retinol0 microgramos
Carotene, beta8 microgramos
Carotene, alfa0 miligramos
Cryptoxanthin1 microgramo
Lycopene0 microgramos
Lutein x zeaxanthin163 microgramos
Vitamin E2,44 miligramos
Tocopherol, beta0,08 miligramos
Tocopherol, delta0,35 miligramos
Tocotrienol, alfa0 miligramos
Tocotrienol, beta0 miligramos
Tocotrienol, gamma0 miligramos
Tocotrienol, delta0 miligramos
Vitamin D0 microgramos
Vitamin K0 microgramos
Total saturated fatty acids0,706 gramos
Total monounsaturated fatty acids1,61 gramos
Total polyunsaturated fatty acids3,29 gramos
Cholesterol0 miligramos
Tryptophan0,167 gramos
Threonine0,421 gramos
Isoleucine0,504 gramos
Leucine0,197 gramos
Lysine0,766 gramos
Methionine0,309 gramos
Cystine0,203 gramos
Phenylalanine0,593 gramos
Tyrosine0,267 gramos
Valina0,594 gramos
Arginine1,09 gramos
Histidine0,407 gramos
Alanine0,588 gramos
Aspartic acid1,13 gramos
Glutamic acid1,86 gramos
Glycine0,694 gramos
Proline0,773 gramos
Serine0,567 gramos

5 benefits of quinoa that you need to know 

Now, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of this wonderful cereal.

1. Good source of protein 

Quinoa cereal is rich in protein; it is even said to have greater quantities of this nutrient compared to rice or corn. In fact, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) states that quinoa has all the essential amino acids for the human body in a good balance.

But what do amino acids do? – They are responsible for forming or producing protein, thus helping the body to break down food, grow or repair tissues. Consuming foods with essential amino acids is important as they are not produced naturally by the body.

Lysine is the most abundant essential amino acid in the grains of this cereal. This substance has numerous benefits such as:

  • Strengthening the immune system by creating and manufacturing antibodies.
  • Enabling cellular repair
  • Helping calcium transport and absorption
  • Participating in the metabolization of fatty acids, among other functions.

2. Helps with cholesterol problems 

Quinoa’s fat is cholesterol free and it contains nutrients such as omega-3 and 6 that help reduce the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise the levels of good cholesterol (HDL). These components that I mentioned before are essential fatty acids that play other important roles in the body such as maintaining good visual health or maintaining proper brain function.

3. Good source of energy 

Quinoa is a good source of energy due to its lipids. These substances are concentrated sources of energy that allow the body to develop and perform various functions. According to the scientific journal Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences (2016), quinoa has 14.5% total amount of lipids.

4. Rich in fiber 

Quinoa grains have approximately 2.6 to 10 % of dietary fiber that has numerous benefits in the body:

  • It helps to reduce cholesterol levels.
  • It allows to have a good stomach health because it favors the intestinal transit, being an ally for people with constipation.
  • It eliminates toxins and waste from the body.
  • It gives a feeling of satiety, among others.

5. Gluten free 

Quinoa is a gluten-free food, a protein that is present in cereals such as wheat or barley. Because of this, it’s ideal for people with celiac disease, a condition that attacks the immune system and prevents your body from breaking down this component and, on the contrary, damages your small intestine. Similarly, it helps people with gluten sensitivity or intolerance.

Medicinal uses of quinoa 

Quinoa is a cereal that has traditional medicinal uses since ancient times developed by different communities, for example, the Kallawaya healers use quinoa in different ways:

  • Externally, it is used to treat hemorrhages or abscesses.
  • The infusion of quinoa leaves is used as a laxative or as a treatment for urinary tract infections.
  • The leaves cooked together with sugar and cinnamon are prepared to purify the stomach or remove nausea.  
  • Black quinoa along with other plants is said to be used to heal bone fractures.
  • They also make a tonic to cure dandruff and maintain healthy hair.
  • It is a dental analgesic as it is said to have healing and anti-inflammatory properties.

History of quinoa 

Several sources state that quinoa might have originated in the South American Andes, more specifically in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia. This cereal has been cultivated from Colombia to southern Chile, including the Argentinean Andes, since ancient times, but there is not much archaeological evidence.

Some of the evidence was found in Peru, so it is possible that quinoa was domesticated as early as 5000 BC. Indigenous burial sites in Peru and Chile contain large quantities of seeds, and there are drawings of the quinoa plant in the pottery of the Tiahuanaco culture.

This cereal was an essential part of the daily diet of the pre-Inca populations due to its great nutritional capacity, it was also used as a traditional medicinal product and was included in religious ceremonies as an essential element of the rituals.

Later, when the Spaniards arrived in the new world they found quinoa crops with appropriate technology and organization. Pedro de Valdivia was one of the chroniclers who wrote about quinoa saying that it was one of the most widely planted foods. Yet, it is said that the Spaniards did not accept quinoa in the same way as corn or potato, on the contrary, they rejected and suppressed it.

Then, in the 20th century, this food was distributed in North and Central America, and today it can even be found in countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Quinoa industry worldwide 

In recent years, quinoa has increased its popularity since people appreciate all its nutritional properties, so here you’ll learn about the production, export and import of quinoa.

The 3 countries producing the most quinoa 

The world production of quinoa is estimated to be more than 175 thousand tons. Below, you will find out the 3 countries that produced the most quinoa, according to FAO in 2020.

PositionCountryProduction in tonsHarvest area in hectares


Peru and Bolivia account for 90% of the world’s quinoa production.

1. Peru 

Peru is the world leader in quinoa production, in fact, it has been one of the most involved countries in the history of this food. In the country there are about 68 thousand small producers who are dedicated to the cultivation of this cereal, which shows the importance of this food in its territory; they produced 100,115 tons in 2020.

On the other hand, there are 67,638 hectares dedicated to the cultivation of quinoa. Some of the regions where quinoa is grown the most are:

  • Puno: 44 %.
  • Ayacucho: 17.6%.
  • Apurimac: 12.6%.
  • Arequipa: 9.4%.
  • Cusco: 4.7%.
  • Junin: 3.9% Huancavelica: 2.5% Huancavelica: 2.5
  • Huancavelica: 2.5%.
  • La Libertad: 1.7% La Libertad: 1.7% La Libertad: 1.7% La Libertad: 1.7% La Libertad: 1.7
  • Cajamarca: 1.3
  • And others: 2.3 %.

2. Bolivia 

Bolivia produced 70,170 tons of quinoa in 2020, accounting for approximately 31 % of world production. The Bolivian territory has 115,973 hectares devoted to quinoa harvesting, concentrating most of the crops in the areas of:

  • Northern Altiplano
  • Southern Altiplano
  • Central Altiplano
  • Inter-Andean valleys
  • Puna
  • Eastern plains

3. Ecuador 

Ecuador produced a total of 4,903 tons of quinoa, a figure primarily generated by small farmers and peasants who base their livelihoods on this cereal. It has a total harvested area of 5,267 hectares for its cultivation, among the regions that produce the most are:

  • Carchi
  • Cotopaxi
  • Chimborazo
  • Imbabura
  • Pichincha

The 10 countries that export the most quinoa 

Now, according to FAO, there are 10 countries worldwide that stand out for being the largest exporters:

  1. Peru: 50,998
  2. Bolivia: 37,314
  3. Canada: 7,041
  4. Netherlands: 4,339
  5. United States: 3,679
  6. Spain: 3,463
  7. Germany: 2,206
  8. France: 2,042
  9. Ecuador: 1,798
  10. Belgium: 1,511

Top 10 countries importing quinoa 

Finally, in the following table you’ll find out which are the 10 countries that imported the most quinoa in 2020, according to FAO. As you can see, countries all over the world import this product, perhaps due to its increasing popularity.

PositionCountryImports in tons in 2020
United States36.792
United Kingdom4.275

How is quinoa cultivated? 

Region and climate 

Quinoa was domesticated in ancient times in various regions at altitudes between 0 and 4000 meters above sea level, which led to a diversity of quinoa types, so it is necessary to choose the variety to know in which region it would be best to grow it and thus have a productive harvest.

Because of quinoa’s diversity, it can be grown in a variety of climates, whether hot, cold, dry or rainy, but it can be said that the optimum temperature is between 15 and 25 °C.

Precipitation and soil 

Quinoa is grown with a rainfall range of 300 to 1000 mm, but the optimum is 500 to 800 mm, although it is worth stressing this cereal’s high capacity to withstand droughts.

On the other hand, quinoa can adapt to all types of soils but loamy soils with a good amount of organic matter are preferred.

Propagation and harvesting 

Quinoa seeds are small so it is necessary to be extremely careful when sowing them to ensure that they germinate. Quinoa can be propagated by planting the seeds directly into the soil or by transplanting seedlings.

Then, once the quinoa plants are ready for harvesting, farmers can harvest them manually, mechanized, or a combination of the two.


The care to be maintained after harvest is:

  • Keep quinoa grains at a humidity of 10 to 12%.
  • Dry the grains in the sun or artificially with suitable machines.
  • Select the grains and clean them to remove all impurities.
  • When the quinoa grain comes white from the plant, it is only dried, but when it has other colors like red or black, it sometimes goes through a process in which the outer layer is removed to obtain a pearly grain, that is, white or beige. In this way it can be marketed and exported worldwide.
  • And finally, the grains are stored in a warehouse with maximum humidity of 12% and preferably in a cool place, as this way they can be preserved for a much longer period of time.

Quinoa-based by-products 

Quinoa cereal is used in culinary preparations around the world, for example, quinoa salad, tamale or beechnuts with quinoa, quinoa meatballs or also prepared to replace rice in the main meals of the day.

It is increasingly included in different industrial products made from this cereal in the global market. Thanks to its potential, industries have developed products such as:

  • Quinoa grains
  • Quinoa flakes
  • Ground quinoa
  • Quinoa with mushrooms
  • Quinoa with vegetables
  • Whole wheat tortillas with quinoa
  • Rice toast with quinoa
  • Oatmeal and quinoa pancakes
  • Brown rice with quinoa
  • Vegetable and quinoa soup
  • Quinoa flour
  • Corn arepas with quinoa, among other products.


Quinoa is such a marvel of nature that many people have appreciated it since ancient times. Nowadays, the whole world is learning to appreciate its nutritional potential as well. You may have never heard of this cereal, but we hope this blog encourages you to try a quinoa-based product or, why not, prepare quinoa in your own kitchen.