Bolivia: “Quinua Real” and quinoa cultivars
The “Quinua Real”
Bolivia is the homeland of what, from a commercial point of view, can be considered the Quinoa par excellence: the “Quinua Real”. By true, it is not a variety, but a denomination that groups about 50 local varieties, which are characterised by the large size of their seeds (that is normally greater than 2 mm) that explains their commercial success. In Bolivia, the “Quinua Real” Designation of Origin was established in 2002. I will, therefore, speak of Quinua Real as a variety, but it is not a proper definition. It is mainly grown in the southern plateau of Bolivia (varieties whose characteristics are very close to those of Quinua Real have also been obtained in the central plateau) on highly saline soils (salares) with low levels of rainfall. However, it is characterised by a surprising ability to adapt to different soil and climatic conditions (with substantial negative variations both in production and in quality of the seed). More in general, it has a high content of saponins, even if, through crossings and hybridisations, there is an attempt to improve this aspect, which has a negative effect on production costs and, above all, on water consumption. Although the colour of the seed of some varieties of Quinua Real can be orange, red, black or pink, the most known and appreciated is the white one.
Quinua Real is the most requested by international markets, mainly the USA and the EU. Cultivation trials were also carried out with some varieties in Europe starting from the 1980s and 1990s, managing to obtain results very far from those desired both in terms of production and as regards the size of the seeds, which are smaller than the Bolivian ones. This results in the loss of the main differentiator and added value of the Quinua Real.
Although Quinua Real has the largest share of Bolivian quinoa exports, there are many other varieties outside this group that are very successful, especially locally, and that have interesting nutritional characteristics. These are varieties mainly grown on the central plateau (many of which are the result of refinements and hybridisations of Quinua Real varieties), but also in the north where the native varieties have considerably smaller seeds.
We can conclude by saying that outside the Bolivian national territory, speaking of Bolivian Quinoa is equivalent to speaking of “Quinua Real” as the latter is the best known and most requested by consumers. As for those who approach Quinoa with the intention of cultivating it in Europe, both at an amateur and professional level, I advise not to be attracted by the commercial success that many of these varieties have. The Quinua Real varieties express their potential in an area with unique soil and climatic conditions: low rainfall, dry climates, high altitudes and low temperatures and, above all, in highly saline soils (the salares are real salt deserts). These conditions are in themselves impossible to find in Europe. In addition to this factor, there is an aspect that is often underestimated, but which undoubtedly represents the greatest obstacle to the cultivation of Quinoa in Europe and is even more relevant than the climatic conditions: latitude. Many of the tests and experiments done with varieties of Quinua Real, as well as with varieties from low latitudes, have shown problems related to the photoperiod. My advice for pioneers who want to embark on the cultivation of Quinoa is to carefully study all aspects, but to keep in mind and prioritise the area (latitude) of origin of the cultivar. Something which I will never get bored to stress enough is: be wary of those sellers or websites that guarantee excellent seed results at low latitudes.
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