Frequently Asked Questions


A. General Information

Why the International Year of Quinoa?

The year 2013 has been declared “International Year of Quinoa” (IYQ) by the United Nations in recognition of the indigenous peoples of the Andes, who have maintained, controlled, protected and preserved quinoa as food for present and future generations thanks to their traditional knowledge and practices of living in harmony with nature.

In declaring 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa”, the UN General Assembly also pointed out    quinoa´s nutritional qualities and its adaptability to different agro-ecological conditions, with FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva calling it an ¨ally in the fight against hunger and food insecurity¨ at the official launch of the International Year of Quinoa at UN Headquarters (New York, 20 February 2013).

What is expected from the IYQ?

The IYQ is expected to be a catalyst to enable the exchange of information and to start to generate medium and long-term programmes and projects for the sustainable development of the cultivation of quinoa nationally and globally.

The aim is: Focus world attention on the role of quinoa biodiversity and nutritional value for food security and the eradication of poverty, in support of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Who will the IYQ benefit?

The beneficiaries are multiple and diverse. While the primary aim of the IYQ is to utilize quinoa’s biodiversity and nutritional value for food security and the eradication of poverty, quinoa also has properties that may benefit private sector actors such as the food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries. 

What is quinoa?

Quinoa was a staple food of the ancient civilizations of the Andes of South America, and is mainly grown in the Andean Countries of Peru and Bolivia. It is sometimes called a pseudo-cereal because of its grain like appearance and sometimes a pseudo-oilseed because of its high content of fat*.

The taxonomic classification is:
-              Kingdom:           Plantae
-              Order:               Caryophyllales
-              Family:              Amaranthaceae
-              Subfamily:         Chenopodioideae
-              Genus:              Chenopodium
-              Specie:              Chenopodium quinoa Willd.

Because of its high nutritional value, indigenous peoples and researchers often refer to it as "the golden 'grain' of the Andes."

* Vega-Galvez, A.; Miranda, M.; Vergara, J.; Uribe, E.; Puente, L.; and Martinez, E.A.; 2010. Nutrition facts and functional potential of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.), and ancient Andean grain: a review. J Sci Food Agric (2010).

Is quinoa a cereal?

No, quinoa is not a cereal. It is sometimes called a pseudo-cereal because of its grain-like appearance and sometimes a pseudo-oilseed because of its high content of fat*.

 *Vega-Galvez, A.; Miranda, M.; Vergara, J.; Uribe, E.; Puente, L.; et Martinez, E.A.; Nutrition facts and functional potential of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.): An ancient Andean grain: a review. J Sci Food Agric (2010)

What does quinoa taste like?

Quinoa has a very delicate taste, often described as nutty or earthy. Quinoa contains saponins, which are normally removed mechanically prior to being sold, or otherwise need to be carefully rinsed off prior to cooking to remove their bitter taste. Quinoa has an interesting texture that can add crunchiness to almost any recipe. Quinoa can be classified into “bitter” and “sweet” varieties that reflect the saponin content, which is much lower in the sweet varieties.

Is quinoa the same as amaranth?

No. Although amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus L.) and quinoa belong to the same family, and are both originally from the Latin American region, amaranth is a different crop species.*

*Tapia, M. 2000. Cultivos andinos subexplotados y su aporte a la alimentación. FAO. 2ed. Santiago, Chile. 

Why quinoa - what are its distinct properties?

Quinoa is known for its:

  • Adaptability to climatic conditions, different quinoa varieties are known to grow in a temperature range from -4 degrees to 35 degrees Celsius* and from sea level to 4000 meters above sea level.
  •  Hardiness. Certain quinoa varieties can grow under difficult conditions, as they are drought tolerant and resistant to salinity. Quinoa grows in highlands and in lowlands**, thus proving its versatility as a real climate smart crop.
  • Low production costs.
  • Environmentally friendly: Quinoa’s great adaptability to climate variability and its efficient use of water make it an excellent alternative crop in the face of climate change***.
  • Nutritional qualities: Quinoa is a healthy food due to its high nutritional value. What distinguishes quinoa from most other plant foods, except for legumes, is its high protein content ****. Quinoa contains all the essential amino acids and is also rich in minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and other nutrients.
  • Praised by NASA as an ideal crop for inclusion in possible future long-term space missions when crops would need to be grown on a spacecraft*****.
  • Ethical qualities: In the Andes, production remains family-based and mostly organic, conferring an elevated fair-trade/super food’s image. Quinoa promotes a ‘healthy image’: whole grain, gluten-free, fair trade and organic. Production has increased the income of lower-income farmers in the semi-arid Andes highlands, especially in the last few years.

* National Research Council. 1989. Lost Crops of The Incas. N.A.P. Washington D.C. USA. Pag. 161.

** Tapia, M. and Fries, A.M; 2007. Guía de Campo de Cultivos Andinos. FAO y ANPE. Pag. 74

*** Mujica, A.; Izquierdo, J.and Marathee, J.P.; Origen y descripción de la quinua, in Quinua (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): Ancestral cultivo andino, alimento del presente y futuro. Ed. by Mujica. A.; Jacobsen, S.E.; Izquierdo, J.; Marathee, J.P.,. FAO, UNA-Puno, CIP, Santiago, Chile.

**** Vega-Galvez, A.; Miranda, M.; Vergara, J.; Uribe, E.; Puente, L.; and Martinez, E.A.; Nutrition facts and functional potential of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.), an ancient Andean grain: a review. J Sci Food Agric (2010).

***** Schlick, G. and Bubenheim, D. 1993. Quinoa: An Emerging “New” Crop with Potential for CELSS. Technical Paper 3422. NASA. California.USA.

Is quinoa a nutritious food?

Yes. Quinoa is considered a nutritious food because it is a good source of many nutrients, which when consumed with other foods can be a great part of a balanced diet. Quinoa is most known for its protein content. Compared to other plant foods, quinoa is generally higher in protein than most grains as shown in the table, while lower in protein than most legumes. Quinoa also has a favorable balance between its essential amino acid content compared to other plant foods. Finally, quinoa is a good source of energy and dietary fibre, and has significant amounts of minerals such as iron and zinc. 


How is quinoa typically eaten?

The quinoa grain has both traditional and non-traditional uses, as well as value-added industrial innovations which are now commercially available, such as ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, granola bars, or breads. The whole grain can be boiled and combined with other foods as part of a meal, such as in a soup, or made into flour to be used to make breads or drinks, among other food types*.

*FAO, together with Chefs against hunger, will soon publish an International  Cookbook on Quinoa. The Cookbook will be available at the FAO/IYQ website.

What else can quinoa be used for, apart from eating?

Animal Feed: The whole plant is used as green forage. Harvest residue is also used to feed cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and poultry.

Medicinal Use: Quinoa leaves, stems and grains have been used traditionally by the indigenous peoples of the Andes for medicinal purposes: healing wounds, reducing swelling, soothing pain (toothache) and disinfecting the urinary tract. They are also used in bone setting, internal bleeding, and as insect repellents.

Nutraceutical Use: A quinoa protein concentrate which is food- or pharmaceutical-grade has the potential use as an ingredient in human or animal nutrition supplements.

Pharmaceutical Use: Saponins extracted from the bitter quinoa variety have properties that can induce changes in intestinal permeability and assist in the absorption of particular medications.

Industrial Uses: Quinoa starch has excellent stability in freeze-thaw conditions, and could provide an alternative to chemically modified starches*. The starch has special potential for industrial use because of the small size of the starch grain, for example in aerosol production, pulps, self-copy paper, dessert foods, excipients in the plastics industry, talcs and anti off-set powders.

In addition to the industrial use of the quinoa grain, the saponins from the pericarp of the bitter quinoa variety have the ability to be used in different beneficial forms. The saponins extracted from the pericarp of bitter quinioa form a foam in aqueous solutions, leading to possible applications in detergents, toothpaste, shampoos, or soaps.**The use of saponin as a bio-pesticide was also shown to have potential in a successful demonstration carried out in Bolivia.***

* Ahamed, T.; Singhal, R.; Kulkarni, P.; Pal, M. 1998. A lesser-known grain, Chenopodium quinoa: review of the chemical composition of its edible parts. Food and Nutrition Bulletin. Vol. 19. No. 1. The United Nations University.

** Montoya, L.; Martínez, L.; Paralta, J. 2005. Análisis de las variables estratégicas para la conformación de una cadena productiva de la quinua en Colombia. Journal Innovar. Edit. Unibiblos: v. 25, p. 103-119.

***U.S.-E.P.A. 2002. Saponins of Chenopodium quinoa (097094) Fact sheet. Regulating Pesticides.



When and where did farmers first start growing quinoa?

Existing historical evidence indicates that quinoa´s domestication by the peoples of America may have occurred between 3,000 and 5,000 years BCE. There are archeological discoveries of quinoa in tombs of Tarapacá, Calama and Arica in Chile, and in different regions of Peru*. Quinoa was well developed and widely cultivated over the Andes region, until being replaced by other cereal crops more preferred by the Spanish after their arrival in the Andes region**.

* Mujica, A; Jacobsen, S.E.; Izquierdo, J.; Marathee, J.P. (Editores). Quinoa (Chenopodiu quinoa Willd.); Ancestral cultivo andino, alimento del presente y futuro. FAO. Santiago de Chile. 2001.

** Mujica, A. “Granos y leguminosas andinas.” In: Cultivos marginados: otra perspectiva de 1492,        by Hernandez, J; Bermejo, J; Leon, J (eds), 129-146. Rome: FAO, 1992.

Where is quinoa grown today?

The geographic distribution of world quinoa production is shown in Figure 1. The highest level of production takes place in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, extending from 5° north latitude to 43° south latitude. Its altitudinal distribution ranges from sea level to 4000 meters above sea level (MASL), where the greatest genetic diversity is found in the Altiplano (high plain) regions of Bolivia and Peru. The ability of different varieties of quinoa to be grown at different altitudes and climate zones are what gives quinoa great potential to improve food security.    

The ability of different quinoa varieties to adapt to different zones has led to experimental trials in different potential quinoa producing countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. It has been successfully grown to date in  the United States, Morocco, Kenya, and India, to name a few, with hopes of eventual large-scale commercial production.

Figure 1. Geographic distribution of world quinoa production.

Countries with greatest quinoa production

Countries with potential for quinoa production

How much quinoa is produced in the world?

Until 2008, Peru and Bolivia accounted for 92 percent of the quinoa produced in the world*. Recent FAO production numbers from 2011 indicated that Peru and Bolivia produced respectively about 41,000 and   38,000 metric tons. While Peru and Bolivia remain the main producers of quinoa, production has also been occurring in the United States, Ecuador, and Canada, which constitute the majority of reported quinoa production outside of Peru and Bolivia.

Below is a figure with referential data for quinoa production for the Andes region according to the FAOSTAT database (2013).

* Suca Apaza, F.; Suca Apaza, C.A. 2008. Competitividad de la Quinua Una Aplicación del Modelo de Michael Porter. EUMED, Lima.

How much land is used to grow quinoa?

The area of quinoa production has seen a rapid increase over the past 30 years, from only 36,000 hectares in the Andes Region of South America in the early 1980s to 83,000 hectares in 2009*. Most quinoa production is done by small farmers for use at home to improve nutrition and food security**. Canada and the United States are estimated to produce quinoa on the largest areas of land outside of the Andes region*.

Below a figure with data for the harvesting area of quinoa in the Andes according to the FAOSTAT database (2013).

* Mujica, A; Jacobsen, S.E.; Izquierdo, J.; Marathee, J.P. (Editores). Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.); Ancestral cultivo andino, alimento del presente y futuro. FAO. Santiago, Chili (2001)

** Food and Agriculture Organization. Quinoa: An ancient crop to contribute to world food security. July 2011.


How many varieties of quinoa are there?

There are more than three thousand varieties or ecotypes of quinoa both cultivated and wild which can be grouped into five basic categories according its adaptation to the agro-ecological conditions existing in the main production areas*:

  • Quinoa from valleys. Two sub types exist: from dry valleys (like Junín, Peru) and from humid valleys growing between 2,300 and 3,500 meters above sea level (masl), with annual rainfall  of 700 to 1,500 mm and a minimum average temperature of 3ºC.
  • Quinoa from highlands, grows above 3,000 meters with rainfall between 400-800 mm/year and a minimum average temperature of 0°C.
  • Quinoa from salt flats grows at an altitude of nearly 3,000 meters, with rainfall between 250-400 mm/year and an average temperature of -1ºC.
  • Quinoa from sea level grows from sea level to 500 meters with rainfall of 800-1500 mm/year and a minimum average temperature of 5ºC. 
  • Quinoa from subtropical zones grows at an altitude of 2300-1500 meters, with rainfall from 1,000 to 2,000 mm/year and a minimum temperature average of 7º C.

Another type of classification considers its origin and intended use; for which varieties of quinoa currently grown can be divided into:

  • Improved or commercial quinoa; those that have been selected or subject to genetic improvement processes in experimental stations.
  • Native varieties of quinoa; which have been selected by  farmers themselves or by native or indigenous communities; and these in turn can be grouped into:

- White small grain quinoas;
- Sweet quinoas, low in saponin;
- Bitter quinoas, high in saponin.

* Tapia, M. E. and A.M. Fries. 2007. Guía de campo de los cultivos andinos. FAO & ANPE. Lima. Page 76.

Which type of quinoa is better for cultivation?

To select the best variety or ecotype for cultivation in a specific area, it is necessary to conduct validation tests or experiments, through official agricultural research programs prior to considering commercial-scale plantings.

To this end, many potential varieties need to be tested, especially those that have shown good performance in other areas with similar agro-ecological conditions. Experimentation is expected to take at least 3 years or 3 production cycles to achieve reliable results. The testing is also useful as a means of adapting the production technology to local conditions.

How many kg of seeds per hectare should be planted?

In commercial planting, 8 to 12 kg/ha of seeds are used since most of the planting is done manually.  A desirable number of quinoa plants resulting from this quantity of seed would be between 100,000 and 160,000 plants per hectare. It is possible reduce seeds to 1-2 kg/ha with seedbeds and transplanting.

How long does it take for quinoa to grow?

It usually takes 160-180 days from sowing for quinoa to reach harvest maturity*.

In which way is FAO able to support requests for help to start quinoa cultivation?

FAO, as an organization that provides technical assistance to governments, and is able to support quinoa cultivation by:

  • Making technical and other information related to quinoa cultivation available to the public;
  • Facilitating dialogue and agreements between official entities  who desire to start experimenting with quinoa and those official entities which may provide seeds and those official entities which may provide seeds.
  • Formulating and executing, together with interested counterparts, technical cooperation projects designed to introduce and develop quinoa cultivation in the fight against hunger.

How and where can seeds for farming be purchased?

Mostly in producer countries. Here, the commercial production of seeds is destined to meet local demand. International trade in quinoa seeds is practically non-existent or unknown.

FAO recommends that those interested in quinoa cultivation carry out field studies, and research different quinoa varieties and their adaptability prior to introducing the crop in non-native countries.

To obtain the seeds and perform experimental tests, FAO suggests establishing experimental programmes in partnership with countries that have already been successful in quinoa cultivation, which could include seed exchange, parallel development of a crop programme, and seed production of best suited varieties.

Seeds for trials can be requested from a germ plasm bank and/or research centre. A list of these centres can be obtained at WIEWS*(see also Annex 1 of this document).

The exchange of germ plasm must be carried out through the signing of a Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), in accordance with the rules on plant genetic resources established by the country providing the seeds. Mechanisms outlined in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) can also be applied to supplement the SMTA.

Seed shipments must meet the phytosanitary requirements of the country of final destination, according to the procedures established in international standards for phytosanitary measures of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

*The World Information and Early Warning System (WIEWS ) on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA).

Does the increase of quinoa production produce negative environmental effects?

As with any other crop, the sustainable production of quinoa in accordance with FAO´s approach for Sustainable Crop Production Intensification (SCPI) should be pursued.

Quinoa´s great adaptability to climate variability and its efficient use of water make it an excellent alternative crop in the face of climate change. The Bolivian National Institute of Agricultural and Forestry Innovation (INIAF) has ranked quinoa among the 21 seeds most resistant to climate change along with beans, corn, amaranth, onions and others.

* FAO. 2011. Save and grow. Roma, Italy. Page. vii.


Trade / Commerce

Which type of quinoa has been most successful on the world market?

The most popular export variety comes from the group known as “quinua real”, grown in the highlands of  southern Bolivia, it is characterized by a large size grain, with a diameter greater than 2.2 mm. Organic quinoa, regardless of its variety, is in great demand in different markets.

Usually coloured quinoa (white or cream) are preferred in the market, especially for use in the food industry or agro-industry. However, for the development of its gastronomic potential, the demand for coloured quinoa is also increasing. 

The FAO recommends that for future production, producers not only focus on the aesthetic appearance of quinoa types, but also focus on increasing the production of quinoa for its nutritional attributes to help improve global nutrition levels.

Which country exports the most quinoa?

Bolivia is the main exporter of quinoa in the world, followed by Peru and Ecuador. The main importers of Bolivian quinoa are presently the United States, France, Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Israel, Brazil and the UK. The FAO estimated in 2010 that Bolivia exported around 15,000 MT of quinoa, with Peru and Ecuador exporting only minimal amounts.

What is the price of 1 tonne of quinoa?

Prices vary depending on destination markets, quality, whether it is organic or not, among other factors.  However, the FOB value is between USD 3,000 to 3,500/tonne, with a tendency to keep increasing.