Four thousand years ago, Babylonian mathematicians were figuring out fractions and farmers in Pakistan started raising cotton. Meanwhile high in the Andes mountains, the Aymara and Quechua peoples had begun to domesticate the hardy native plant known as Kinwa in the Quechua language.
For ages to follow, quinoa nourished the Andean way of life. The protein-rich seeds were ground into flour for baking or boiled in stews. In the extreme Altiplano climate, where other crops routinely failed, successive cultures trusted quinoa to fuel their families and their fighting men.
The Incas revered quinoa; from the 1530s, the Spanish burned it, banned it and dictated wheat as its unsuitable replacement. Within decades quinoa had withdrawn to its remote highland roots and centuries of global obscurity. Isolation had its benefits: ancient seeds flourished free from contaminants, and farmers developed their tools and techniques for working with Nature, simple, effective, organic and sustainable.
Fast-forward to the 1980s, when food scientists identified the nutritional richness of quinoa just as healthy eating was emerging as a mega-trend among consumers in developed countries. Bolivian quinoa planting doubled in a few years, and organic-food pioneers began building a supply chain to the US market.
By 2007, the US was importing 3,300 metric tons of quinoa per year; by 2013, business had boomed to 36,000 metric tons, with quinoa on supermarket shelves nationwide. In Bolivia, tractors and irrigation systems started to appear in the fields and as farm incomes soared, electricity, sanitation and education reached even the remotest communities.
Worldwide interest and demand for quinoa followed a parallel growth curve, and the United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa. As other countries aggressively seek to harness the magic of the Mother Grain of the Andes, a critical new chapter in the history of quinoa is currently being written.