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Peruvian quinoa is an ancient grain also referred to as the “mother grain of the Incas.”
While exploring the authentic food specialties in South America, quinoa was one of the most significant grains we came across.
While already familiar with quinoa, what surprised us the most was its revered status in the Andes region where it grows.
Peruvian chefs and home cooks have also incorporated this traditional cereal into dishes, desserts, and drinks in new and surprising ways.
If your travels take you to Peru or simply want to incorporate Peruvian quinoa into your diet, read on for more.
Here are 7 unusual ways to enjoy quinoa the Peruvian way!
What is Peruvian Quinoa?
Peruvian quinoa or quinoa from Peru is one of the country’s most famous superfoods.
The quinoa plant has been planted in the Andes region for more than 5,000 years.
During the Inca civilization, it was referred to as the “Golden Grain of the Andes,” and it was used to boost the strength of the Inca warriors.
Peruvian quinoa versus quinoa from other countries is a question of provenance or origin.
Traditionally, quinoa was grown in the high mountains of the Andes which encompass parts of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
Today, other countries around the world are starting to grow quinoa. There are more than 50+ countries that grow quinoa on a smaller scale.
While there may be subtle differences in taste, Peruvian quinoa is highly regarded as it reflects the traditions and history of the people who were among the first to grow it.
Where Is Quinoa From?
The history of quinoa is in South America and in particular the Andes region which includes Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Quinoa was first grown in Bolivia, but today Peru is the largest producer. These two countries produce about 95% of all commercially grown Andes quinoa.
Even though Peru and Bolivia continue to be the main producers of quinoa, other countries like China, India, the USA, and several European countries are producing an easier-to-harvest quinoa.
Andes-grown quinoa continues to be superior, and it is a sought “Superfood from the Andes,” for its nutritional value and and delicious flavors.
Quinoa South America Varieties
While in Peru and also in the north of Argentina near the Bolivia border, we were struck by the diversity of quinoa varieties.
Quinua Real which grows only in Bolivia is one of the varieties we were most surprised to discover.
It grows in extreme weather conditions and high altitudes yielding bigger grains with increased nutritional value.
White quinoa is commonly available, and it is a softer, fluffier variety with a mild, less nutty taste.
Not all quinoa is the same, and there are more than 100 varieties worldwide. Depending on what kind you eat, there are nutritional differences in the various varieties.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you want to learn how to make Peruvian quinoa dishes at home with a chef from Peru, consider taking an online cooking class with The Chef and the Dish. This Peruvian superfoods cooking class with Chef Lucia from Peru will teach you via Skype how to prepare quinoa foods like quinoa vegetable soup, quinoa Chaufa, and one quinoa-based drink. Find out more about this 2.5-hour Peruvian superfood cooking class with the Chef and the Dish.
Quinoa Health Benefits
Quinoa is nutritious and is packed with many health benefits.
This nutrient-dense food does not contain gluten making it an ideal option for people diagnosed with celiac disease.
Quinoa is protein-rich, with one cup of cooked quinoa containing five to eight grams of protein.
It is also a high-fiber food, rich in manganese, and magnesium, all necessary for a healthy diet.
As quinoa is a healthy and versatile food its popularity continues to skyrocket around the world.
How To Cook Quinoa – The Simple Version
If you’re simply cooking a bowl of plain quinoa, it is not difficult. You’ll want to first rinse the dried quinoa under cold water to remove any coating or debris.
Easy Quinoa Cooking Instructions
- Use the ratio of 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water.
- Bring the water to a boil. Add the quinoa to the hot water and cover with a lid.
- Turn the heat off and let the quinoa sit in the hot water, covered for about 15 minutes until the water is absorbed.
- After the water has been absorbed, use a fork to fluff the quinoa.
- Season with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to taste.
- The quinoa should be soft but not mushy.
7 Ways to Eat Quinoa in Peru (With Recipes)
With Peruvian quinoa being an ancient grain from the Andes, you’ll find many delicious Peruvian recipes.
While not exhaustive, the following are some of the traditional Peruvian-based quinoa dishes we discovered on our authentic food quest.
1. Quinoa Soup (With Recipe)
Given that quinoa is widely cultivated across Peru, you can find it prepared in many different ways.
One popular quinoa Peruvian recipe is Sopa de Quinua or Quinoa Soup.
This traditional quinoa soup typically includes vegetables, and it is flavorful and hearty.
While talking to a local chef in South America about her quinoa soup, we were surprised at how particular she was about the kind of quinoa she uses in her soup.
When choosing which type of quinoa to use, she preferred quinoa de la Quebrada, from the Argentine Andes, versus the type typically found in Bolivia.
Quinoa de la Quebrada, she told us, holds up well in the soup and gives it a nice, nutty flavor.
Regardless of what quinoa is used in the soup, it is a healthy and delicious superfood that’s simple to make.
Cook your quinoa with vegetable stock and add vegetables like celery, carrots, potatoes, and onions.
If you want to add some spice to the quinoa soup, add a little Ají Amarillo, an essential condiment in Peruvian cuisine.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Quinoa soup is healthy and super easy to make at home. Enjoy delicious Peruvian flavors at home with our simple Easy and Healthy Traditional Peruvian Quinoa Soup Recipe
2. Quinoa Empanadas (With Recipe)
Empanadas are moon-shaped stuffed pastries popular throughout South America.
These delicious little bites are typically stuffed with meat, cheese, or vegetables and eaten as a quick snack or meal.
Quinoa empanadas was one of our most unique discoveries in South America.
We didn’t see quinoa empanadas often on menus and were delighted to have the chance to try them.
Biting into the empanadas, we found the taste of empanada de quinua to be surprising.
The quinoa empanada was crunchy on the outside while the quinoa on the inside was subtle, and hearty, with a nutty flavor.
Quinoa empanadas are delicious and absolutely worth trying.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: If you would like to make empanadas stuffed with quinoa, see our empanada recipe from Argentina. Stuff it instead with Peruvian quinoa and enjoy a delicious healthy snack How To Make Delicious Argentinian Empanadas Recipe
3. Peruvian Quinoa Salad
Peruvian quinoa salad is one of the most refreshing salads you can have.
Called “ensalada de quinua” in Spanish, quinoa salad is very easy to prepare and tastes delightful.
Using the traditional products of the Andes, in this case, quinoa and native corn, we relished this delicious dish.
The simple quinoa salad we had consisted of tomatoes, corn, and Andean cheese. All healthy ingredients and freshly prepared.
If you want to make a quinoa salad at home, add corn and cheese to the cooked quinoa.
For even more flavors, you can also add sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes, onions, and vegetables like sliced bell pepper.
Peruvian quinoa prepared as a quinoa salad is a simple dish worth savoring while visiting Peru or in your home kitchen.
4. Salmon Sashimi Quinoa – Tiradito con Quinoa (With Recipe)
Tiradito is a dish that reflects the Japanese influence on Peruvian cuisine. This style of cooking is called Nikkei cuisine in Peru, and it was developed by Japanese emigrants in Peru.
Tiradito is a raw fish dish, where the fish is thinly sliced so that it appears very similar to sashimi or carpaccio.
In Peru, cooked quinoa is added to the raw Tiradito-style fish for an exquisite blend of Japanese and Peruvian flavors.
Tiradito with quinoa is most commonly prepared with raw salmon, though white fish like sea bass or sole can also be used.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Enjoy delicious Peruvian salmon sashimi at home with this Simple Tiradito Recipe: Peruvian-Style Salmon Sashimi With Quinoa
5. Quinoa Bread
Bread is commonly eaten at breakfast in Peru. It’s also used to make sandwiches for later in the day.
The most common type of bread you’ll find is white bread, though you can also find wheat bread.
Surprisingly, while at a local bakery near where we stayed in Lima, we discovered quinoa bread or pan de quinua.
Intrigued, we picked up two small loaves to bring back to eat for breakfast. We found the quinoa bread to be light and airy in texture.
The taste was mild and rather grainy, somewhat in between white and wheat bread.
Quinoa bread, like all other quinoa dishes, is gluten-free. Peruvian quinoa bread is a healthy treat worth seeking out on your Peru travels.
6. Quinoa con Leche, Quinua con Leche – Quinoa Pudding
Quinoa con leche, which translates to quinoa with milk is a traditional Peruvian pudding.
Quinoa pudding is a traditional comfort dessert that is similar to arroz con leche or rice pudding.
The Peruvian twist to the popular rice pudding dessert is to use Peruvian quinoa instead of rice.
Generally, only a few ingredients are needed to make this beloved Peruvian dessert.
You can use white quinoa or any quinoa you have available. Cinnamon, milk, sugar to taste, and vanilla extract are the other main ingredients.
The cooking process is fairly simple. First, you’ll need to boil the quinoa with a cinnamon stick.
Then, you’ll add milk and the remaining ingredients. Once you have a creamy texture, take the quinoa pudding off the stovetop and serve it either chilled or warm.
Quinoa pudding or “quinua con leche,” is a nutritious Peruvian dessert to savor.
7. Quinoa Beer – Cusqueña
In Peru, you will find quinoa everywhere. It’s at the farmers market, grocery stores, bakeries, and featured on many restaurant menus.
Surprisingly, quinoa is not only used in Peruvian food but also in local beverages.
Cusqueña is a popular beer brand produced in Cusco, Peru.
The brand introduced a Quinua Special Edition of Cusqueña beer that was co-created with Gaston Acurio, Peru’s top chef.
The beer is a blend of pearl quinoa, malted barley, corn, hints of orange and peach, hops, and natural pure water.
The Quinua Special Edition beef is slightly fruity and not too hoppy. The actual taste of quinoa is difficult to discern as it is hidden behind the barley and hoppy flavors.
Nonetheless, it is easy to drink and worth trying.
Quinoa is an amazing ancient superfood that is now being rediscovered worldwide. This nutritious plant is loaded with protein, fiber, and minerals.
Increasingly, it is also viewed as playing an important role in eradicating hunger and malnutrition. The United Nations even dubbed 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa.”
While quinoa is gaining in popularity in North America and Europe, it was surprising to see just how ingrained it was in the local food culture, particularly around the Andes region.
Besides finding quinoa in the meals above, we were also surprised to find quinoa used as the main ingredient in snack bars, Alfajores (popular South American cookies), Picarones (Peruvian donuts), milk, pasta, and much more.
Have you had Peruvian quinoa before? In the comments below, tell us how it was served or prepared.
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Our book, Authentic Food Quest Peru takes you on a journey through the regional food specialties in Peru. Get an introduction to Peruvian food and the history of how this unique gastronomy came to be.
Discover the authentic foods in Lima and Cusco as well as the top Peruvian foods and drinks that should not be missed. Take this guide with you as you explore Peru’s magnificent cuisine.
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Claire is co-founder of Authentic Food Quest and a lover of simple and exquisite cuisine. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, she has been traveling the world as a digital nomad, creating content about local food experiences.
Her advice from visiting 45 countries and more than 240 food cities has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post. She has also co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
An ex-mechanical engineer, Claire is responsible for SEO, keeping the website running, and the fun food & travel videos on YouTube.
When Claire is not eating, she can be found running or cycling. Find out more about Authentic Food Quest