Consumers often seem to be on the hunt for new wonder foods and one example that has seen phenomenal growth in demand in the West over the last few years is quinoa. Quinoa, (pronounced keen-wah), is a grain-like crop primarily grown for its edible seed. The so-called "golden grain of the Incas" is a pseudo-cereal rather than a true cereal, or grain, as it is not a member of the grass family. This makes it a potential alternative for people who cannot easily tolerate the gluten in grains such as wheat, corn, rye, barley, and oats.
Quinoa originates in South America, in the Andean regions of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, where it has been grown for human consumption for thousands of years. Peru is the main producer.
Production and exports of Peruvian quinoa have increased more than fivefold in the last four years, with prices rising from around USD $1300/mt in 2008 to almost USD $3600/mt in 2011, reaching an export value worth USD $22.3 million in 2011 on a volume of almost 7000 tonnes. The main destination for Peruvian quinoa is the US, distantly followed by the EU.
It is relatively undemanding as a crop, grown from coastal regions, up into the high Andes near the equator. In the future there might be even more of it about, since quinoa is less susceptible to drought than grains such as wheat and maize. It is perhaps not too surprising that 2013 has been declared "International year of quinoa" by the United Nations, partly in an effort to raise its supply.
An increase in supply may have the benefit of bringing prices down, with recent South American harvests in June distinctly taking the edge of its cost, down almost 20% since the start of July last year.
As more potentially discover its benefits, however, perhaps the recent lower price may come to look like a bargain if demand picks up by the end of the year?