You're not imagining things: quinoa is everywhere these days. Since its resurgence in the Andes Mountains in the 1990s, quinoa's gluten free, protein-rich nutritional profile has made it a go-to grain for high-end restaurants and home kitchens alike. But when you grab your bag of Bob's Red Mill quinoa at the grocery store (or scoop it from the bulk bins), do you ever wonder how this superfood is grown and harvested? During a recent visit to La Paz, Bolivia to visit our quinoa farmers and distributors, we were able to get some fantastic photos of the harvesting process and cool details about the life cycle of this ancient grain.
Currently, Bolivia and Peru provide 80% of the world's quinoa, and 100% of our quinoa at Bob's Red Mill! That's because this incredibly nutritious grain (actually a pseudo-grain) originated in the Andes centuries ago and thrives in its harsh, high-altitude conditions. Check out our history of quinoa, and how its increasing popularity has affected South America's quinoa farmers, right here on the blog.
To plant quinoa, the seed is scattered over well-drained soil (as too much moisture can soak them to death) and then raked in. Germination is relatively quick, but maturation rates vary widely: quinoa is harvested within 90 to 220 days, depending on the weather and other factors. One major reason for this variability is that each quinoa plant grows multiple panicles, or branches, and different panicles on the same plant can mature at different times. If harvested too soon, the quinoa won't be ready, but it it's done too late, the seeds can shatter, yielding high losses. Because of these factors, Bob's Red Mill quinoa is harvested by hand--here, a knowledgeable grower with a scythe has a big advantage over any machine.
Quinoa has fewer problems with insects and other pests than many other crops because of its natural saponins--a bitter coating that deters all but the most persistent of pests. But you don't need to worry about your taste buds: these saponins are rinsed off during processing and then used as a detergent!
Farmers cut down the quinoa by hand and lay the plants on tarps for a few days to finish drying. Then it gets fun: they actually drive over it with a tractor to break it up, before threshing and sifting. One big challenge when harvesting quinoa is making sure it's glass free. Why? As a further testament to its hardy nature, quinoa is grown in volcanic soil that contains a lot of quartz.
Finally, the growers sift the quinoa, then bag up the seed and drive it 10 hours to La Paz for processing. There, the quinoa goes through color sorters to remove any foreign particles and to separate different varieties. Then it's rinsed, dried and shipped to Bob’s Red Mill, where we package and sell it worldwide! You can find our Organic Quinoa, Organic Red Quinoa, Organic Tri-Color Quinoa and our Organic Quinoa Flour here on our site, or use our Store Locator to find a local retailer.
Of course, the final phase of harvesting quinoa is eating it! Below, you'll find some of our favorite ways to prepare this delicious, versatile ingredient.
Wondering what to do with quinoa flour? Try these Zucchini Orange Muffins. Flavored with orange, cinnamon and cloves, they make a fantastic breakfast or snack! These are a great way to use up some summer surplus zucchini, too.
You've likely heard of overnight oats, but are you ready for overnight quinoa? To make Banana Almond Overnight Quinoa with Chia Seeds, you'll blend up a smoothie of almond milk, Greek yogurt, bananas and honey to pour over cooked quinoa. Stir in some chia seeds and let sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning, garnish your tasty breakfast treat with fruit and nuts and dig in!
This Black Bean Quinoa Salad is delicious year-round, but it's especially great when paired with spring and summer produce! Our Tri-Color Quinoa and black beans make this a hearty, protein-packed entree or side dish. Add grilled shrimp, chicken or tofu for even more protein.
Quinoa is especially popular with vegans because of its high-quality protein. Give it a whirl with our recipe for Vegan Quinoa Mushroom Risotto. Here, quinoa replaces arborio rice for a creamy, rich entree made with mushrooms, garlic, homemade cashew milk and nutritional yeast! Plus, there's a lot less stirring compared to traditional risotto.
Need a nutritious yet out-of-the-ordinary appetizer or party food? Chef Billy Parisi's Quinoa Sliders can be made gluten free and customized a million ways: try Thousand Island dressing and American cheese, buffalo sauce and blue cheese, mushrooms and caramelized onions, grilled eggplant and hummus, or whatever else you can dream up!
What's your favorite thing to do with quinoa? Post below!